Jul 26, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Voters with disabilities sue Wisconsin court over absentee ballot ruling

Election officials count absentee ballots at a polling place located in the Town of Beloit fire station on November 03, 2020 near Beloit, Wisconsin.

Election officials count absentee ballots in the Town of Beloit fire station on Nov. 3, 2020, near Beloit, Wis. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Four people in Wisconsin with disabilities have filed a lawsuit challenging the state Supreme Court's recent ruling that deemed absentee voter drop boxes illegal.

Why it matters: The lawsuit underscores broader concerns by voters with disabilities who fear increased hurdles to voting in light of new ballot restrictions.

Zoom in: At issue in Wisconsin is the state Supreme Court's 4-3 ruling this month that held voters will be required to mail or return completed absentee ballots in person to designated officials.

  • Wisconsin voters will also only be allowed to return absentee ballots in drop boxes in elected officials' offices, the court said.
  • The lawsuit filed last week asks the federal court to allow disabled voters to give their ballots to others to return for them, saying that the ruling violates the Constitution, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act, AP reports.
  • The plaintiffs argue that many people with disabilities simply cannot vote if they can't receive help from somebody to mail or deliver their ballots, the Wisconsin State Journal reports.
  • "Plaintiffs are faced with an impossible, and unlawful, choice: abstain from voting altogether or risk that their ballots will be invalidated, or that their only available method to vote absentee (ballot-return assistance) could subject them to prosecution," per the lawsuit.

State of play: Last year, 18 states enacted 34 laws that add hurdles to the voting process, with many specifically targeting mail voting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

  • The increased restrictions come at a time when voter turnout surged among people with disabilities in 2020 and when all voters, particularly those with disabilities, relied on mail voting during the pandemic, according to the Program for Disability Research at Rutgers University.
  • Just over half, 52%, of voters with disabilities cast their ballot by mail before Election Day in 2020, compared to 40% of voters without disabilities, per Rutgers.

What they're saying: "I am extremely worried about the elections in November," Mia Ives-Rublee, director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan policy institute, told USA Today.

  • "To reduce the amount of time of early voting, to reduce ballot drop boxes, all of that is going to specifically impact disabled people."

G0 deeper... Wisconsin Supreme Court says absentee voter drop boxes are illegal

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