Federal judge overturns decision to ensure Wisconsin voters with disabilities get help voting |  The Milwaukee Independent

Federal judge overturns decision to ensure Wisconsin voters with disabilities get help voting | The Milwaukee Independent

On August 31, a federal judge blocked a ruling that would have barred Wisconsin voters with disabilities from getting assistance while voting. The decision will allow voters with disabilities to ask another person to return their mail-in ballots for them.

In July, the conservative majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, in a ruling that also banned the use of mail-in ballot boxes, ruled that voters must cast their own ballots. Following the state court ruling, voters with disabilities feared they would be forced to choose between breaking the law or being disenfranchised.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson’s ruling states that the Voting Rights Act protects the right of voters with disabilities to obtain any assistance necessary to vote.

“Voters should not have to choose between exercising their federal rights and complying with state law,” Peterson wrote. “But that is the position in which the plaintiffs find themselves, and it is partly because the defendants have refused to provide the necessary clarification. If the defendants cannot or will not assure the plaintiffs that their right to vote will be protected, this court must do so. Voting rights law is clear: voters with disabilities who need help returning an absentee ballot have the right to request that assistance from a person of their choice. »

Law Forward, a nonprofit law firm focused on voting rights, filed a lawsuit on behalf of four voters with disabilities who do not fully use their arms and legs against the Wisconsin Election Commission and its administrator, Meagan Wolfe.

After Peterson’s ruling, the advocacy group Disability Rights Wisconsin (DRW) celebrated the protection of the right to vote but said illegal barriers to voting must be opposed.

“This order affirms what DRW has always known: that voters with disabilities may be assisted by a person of their choice to vote, including assistance with returning ballots, and that these rights are protected by federal law.” , the organization said in a statement. “We commend the efforts of the four Wisconsin voters with disabilities in this lawsuit and Law Forward who represented them. DRW heard from angry, confused, and disenfranchised voters because Wisconsin courts and election officials failed to uphold federal law protections for voters with disabilities. These voters should now feel confident to assert their voting rights, which are protected by federal law. Wisconsin must end these illegal barriers and ensure that the rights of voters with disabilities are evenly protected and enforced across our state. »

The original lawsuit that led to the state Supreme Court banning mail-in ballot boxes and temporarily barring voters with disabilities from getting ballot return assistance was brought by two Waukesha County voters and the right-wing law firm, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.

The lawsuit was filed after Republican voters turned against these voting methods after the 2020 election – alleging that the ballot boxes are vulnerable to fraud and that helping to return ballots is a harmful practice that they call it “ballot harvesting” or “ballot trafficking”.

Following Peterson’s decision, the three Democrats on the House Campaigns and Elections Committee said the decision was only necessary because of Republican attacks on voting access.

“Wisconsin voters have had their right to vote upheld by a federal judge rather than our state’s laws,” the statement from Representatives Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire), Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit) and Lisa Subeck ( D-Madison) said. “The case decided today was a direct result of Republican efforts to undermine the franchise in Wisconsin and restrict voters’ ability to return their ballots.

They noted that Republicans were so determined to limit voters’ ability to vote by mail that some voters with disabilities would have had no way to return their ballot and exercise their right to participate in our democracy.

“For years, Republicans have tried to limit voting in our state in order to dictate election results,” they continued. “The fact that they failed to do so in this case does not change the immeasurable damage they have done to the franchise in our state. Republicans in the Legislature and Supreme Court of have consistently failed to protect voting rights – and have actively chosen to undermine voting rights – on almost every occasion. This decision is a victory for voters, but it should not require a federal judge to defend the franchise in Wisconsin.

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