Federal judge orders Wisconsinites with disabilities entitled to receive assistance to vote | national news
Wisconsin voters with disabilities have the right to receive third-party assistance in mailing ballots or delivering them to a clerk, a federal judge ordered Wednesday.
The order comes after several voters with disabilities petitioned a federal court to ensure they could receive assistance to vote following a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling and subsequent comments by the chief executive. state elections that seemed to significantly limit, if not eliminate, their ability to vote.
No matter what state laws say or recent state court rulings, federal law authorizing assistance for voters with disabilities prevails over Wisconsin law, U.S. District Court Judge James Peterson said Wednesday. of the Western District of Wisconsin.
“Voters shouldn’t have to choose between exercising their federal rights and complying with state law,” Peterson said. “But that’s the position the plaintiffs find themselves in, and it’s partly because the defendants have refused to provide the necessary clarification.”
Peterson also ordered the Wisconsin Elections Commission to tell city clerks across the state by Sept. 9 that federal voting rights law allows voters with disabilities to receive assistance as long as the person assisting them is not not the voter’s employer, an agent of that employer” or an officer or agent of the voters’ union.
“Even if the court order imposes a slight burden on the defendants, that burden is justified by the clear violation of the plaintiffs’ federal rights,” Peterson said.
The Electoral Commission released a statement on Wednesday saying its members would meet on September 6 to consider advice on how to comply with the court order.
The lawsuit follows the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s 4-3 ruling that absentee ballots must be delivered by mail or in person to a local clerk’s office or other designated location. The majority also argued that no one other than the voter can return their ballot in person. The state High Court has not ruled on whether voters can have someone else handle their ballot before being routed to a letterbox. But Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe told the media a week after the state Supreme Court’s decision that “the voter is the one who is required to cast their ballot.”
The lawsuit was filed last month by multiple disabled plaintiffs, represented by liberal law firm Law Forward, against the Wisconsin Elections Commission and Wolfe.
Disability Rights Wisconsin spokesperson Barbara Beckert said the organization had “heard from angry, confused and disenfranchised voters because Wisconsin courts and election officials failed to uphold the protections of federal law for voters with disabilities”.
She said those people should now feel confident to vote.
Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, praised the order and called on the Legislature to codify existing federal protections into state law to avoid confusion in the future.
The plaintiffs said in court papers that many Wisconsin residents with disabilities cannot vote if they cannot receive assistance from someone to mail their ballots for them or deliver them in person.
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The plaintiffs asked the court to declare that Wisconsinites with disabilities have the right to receive assistance in returning their ballots. The plaintiffs alleged violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments as well as numerous federal laws, including the Voting Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Following the court order, a lawyer from the conservative group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty sent a letter to members of the Election Commission encouraging them to create a rule ensuring that assistance only applies to people who personally cannot deliver or mail a ballot.
Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty associate attorney Luke Berg suggested the commission require those providing assistance to certify that the voter they are assisting cannot personally mail or deliver a ballot due to ‘disabilities.
“We don’t disagree with Judge Peterson’s legal logic and believe this is an important issue for clarity going forward,” Berg said. “But, it is critical that the Wisconsin Elections Commission not enforce this ruling in a manner that creates a loophole that could compromise the integrity of the election – we are taking steps today to ensure the commission is aware of this risk and applies the law faithfully.”
The state has multiple, overlapping safeguards aimed at preventing ineligible voters from voting, tampering with ballots, or altering vote totals.
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