HUDSON — Two Wisconsin voting bills are a source of concern for disability rights advocates, including a local Hudson man.
Ramsey Lee joined other advocates for those with disabilities in speaking out against the voting bill being considered by the Wisconsin Legislature during a press conference on Wednesday, May 12, held by the Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition.
Bill 203 would require that an absentee ballot be returned by mail or turned in by the voter, a member of the voter’s immediate family or the voter’s legal guardian. If the voter is unable to deliver the ballot and has no legal guardian or immediate family in the state, the person may then designate one registered voter to deliver the ballot. That person may not deliver more than one ballot for any election for a person who is not an immediate family member.
Bill 212 would prohibit municipal clerks from correcting defects in the witness certificate portion of a submitted absentee ballot. Any ballots with a defect must be returned to the voter and a notification posted on MyVote Wisconsin for the voter.
Disability Rights Wisconsin Office Director Barbara Beckert said these two bills will add new barriers and restrictions to voters with disabilities, as well as older adults and other absentee voters. Voters with disabilities have a higher use of absentee voting, as they are often nondrivers or they face accessibility issues at the polls.
Of the more than 3.7 million registered Wisconsin voters, an estimated 23% are people with disabilities, according to the coalition.
Hudson’s Lee, who has cerebral palsy and cannot drive, is grateful that he has help from his parents when it comes to voting, but he worries about those who don’t. Many people with disabilities, as well as the elderly, are nondrivers, and not all of them have family who are close enough to drop off an absentee ballot, or willing to do so, he said.
The piece of the legislation limiting registered voters to dropping off only one absentee ballot for others could also be a problem, Lee said, when some people are the sole resource for many people in the area, or one staff member is the sole resource for all those in a group home. For example, in addition to helping him, Lee said his parents have also assisted their elderly neighbors in the past.
All of Wisconsin’s citizens should be able to fully participate in the voting process, Lee said.
“We should be encouraging people to vote and not discouraging people,” he said.
The restriction against clerk actions can also be a problem for voters with visual impairments, Lee said.
“If there is a problem with the ballots the clerk would have to mail it back, and then you run the risk of the vote not being counted because the mail is so slow and not everybody has internet access,” he said.
The bills are unlikely to become law, as Gov. Tony Evers has said he would veto them if passed. But advocates say they speak to a larger issue of disability rights.
The coalition would like to work with policy makers instead to take actions to assure elections are accessible and inclusive of voters with all abilities, Beckert said.
Ways to do that include:
Offer accessible absentee ballots for those with visual impairments.
Improve access to the Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV is the only place for voters to get the photo ID required to vote, but Beckert said Wisconsin has the most limited DMV hours. Hours should be extended during the week and weekend, Beckert said.
Improve options to obtain photo IDs. Photo ID access should be offered at easily accessible places like aging and disability resource centers as well as in homes for those who are homebound.
Address inaccessible polling places. More rigorous oversight of accessibility is needed, Beckert said. The state should also work to provide municipalities with the money, supplies and training needed to address accessibility issues.
Curbside voting. Curbside voting is the law in Wisconsin, Beckert said, but not everybody knows they are supposed to have that option.