Wisconsin judge to weigh letting people with disabilities vote electronically from home in November

MADISON, Wis. — A Wisconsin judge is expected Monday to consider whether people with disabilities can vote electronically from home in the swing state this fall.

Disability Rights Wisconsin, the League of Women Voters and four people with disabilities filed a lawsuit in April demanding that people with disabilities be allowed to cast absentee ballots electronically from home.

They asked Dane County Circuit Judge Everett Mitchell to issue a temporary injunction before resolving the lawsuit granting the accommodation for the Aug. 13 primary and November presidential elections. Mitchell scheduled a hearing on the order Monday.

Questions about who can vote absentee and where they can do so have become a hot topic political flashpoint in Wisconsin, where four of the past six presidential elections were decided by less than a percentage point.

Any eligible voter can vote in Wisconsin using a paper ballot. Democrats have pushed to make the process easier in recent years, while Republicans have tried to limit it. The liberal-leaning Supreme Court is considering whether to overturn a ban on rulings absentee ballot boxes which was issued by an earlier, conservative-leaning version of the court.

Those suing for the right to vote electronically by absentee include Donald Natzke of Shorewood and Michael Christopher of Madison, both of whom are blind; Stacy Ellingen, of Oshkosh, who has cerebral palsy; and Tyler Engel, of Madison, who has spinal muscular atrophy.

They argue that many people with disabilities are unable to cast their paper ballots without assistance, violating their right to protect the secrecy of their votes. They say allowing electronic accessibility devices in their homes would allow them to cast a vote without assistance.

They also point out that military and overseas voters are allowed to cast ballots electronically in Wisconsin elections. People with disabilities should be given the same opportunities under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the federal Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits all organizations receiving financial assistance from discriminating on the basis of disability, they say.

People with disabilities make up about a quarter of the US adult population, according to the American newspaper Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Just over a million adults in Wisconsin, or one in four, have disabilities, defined by the CDC as problems with mobility, cognition, independent living, hearing, vision, dressing or bathing.

People with disabilities have been embroiled in several legal battles over access to the ballot box in recent years, as many Republican-led states have limited how and when people can vote. One of the issues they have been fighting is about borders the types of assistance a voter can receive and whether someone else can return a voter’s mail-in ballot.

People with disabilities in Wisconsin were allowed to vote electronically from home until 2011, when then-Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, signed a bill drafted by the Republican Party that limits electronic voting to only military and overseas voters.

Doug Poland, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he had no estimates of how many people with disabilities would be able to vote electronically from home in the August and November elections if the judge were to issue the temporary injunction.

A federal court sided with disability rights activists in 2022 and said the Voting Rights Act applies to Wisconsin voters who need assistance mailing or delivering their absentee ballot because of a disability. The ruling overturned a 4-3 decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which at the time leaned conservative, that only the voters themselves can hand in their ballot in person or post it.

Despite that of former President Donald Trump false claims that he lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden because the election was rigged, voter fraud is extremely rare in the United States. A Associated Press rating For every possible case of voter fraud in six battleground states where Trump challenged the 2020 results, fewer than 475 cases were found, which was not nearly enough to affect the outcome.