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

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A Wisconsin judge on Monday is expected to consider whether to allow people with disabilities to vote electronically from home in the swing state this fall.

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

They asked Dane County Circuit Judge Everett Mitchell to issue a temporary injunction before the lawsuit is resolved granting the accommodation in the state’s Aug. 13 primary and November presidential election. Mitchell scheduled a Monday hearing on the injunction.

Questions over who can cast absentee ballots and where they can do it have become a political flashpoint in Wisconsin, where four of the past six presidential elections have been decided by less than a percentage point.

Any eligible voter can vote by paper absentee ballot in Wisconsin. Democrats have pushed to make the process easier the last several years, while Republicans have been trying to limit it. The liberal-leaning state Supreme Court is considering whether to overturn a ruling banning absentee ballot drop boxes that was issued by a previous, conservative-leaning version of the court.

Those suing for the right to cast an electronic absentee ballot 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 many people with disabilities can’t cast 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 ballot unassisted.

They also point out that military and overseas voters are permitted to cast absentee ballots electronically in Wisconsin elections. People with disabilities must be afforded the same opportunity under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the federal Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits all organizations that receive financial assistance from discriminating on the basis of disability, they argue.

People with disabilities make up about a quarter of the U.S. adult population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A little more than a million Wisconsin adults, or one in four, are disabled, defined by the CDC as having difficulty with mobility, cognition, independent living, hearing, seeing, dressing or bathing.

Disabled people have engaged in several legal battles in recent years over access to the polls, as many Republican-led states have restricted how and when people can vote. Among the issues they have fought are limits on the types of assistance a voter can receive and whether someone else can return a voter’s mailed ballot.

Disabled people in Wisconsin were allowed to vote electronically from home until 2011, when then-Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, signed a GOP-authored bill that restricted electronic voting to only military and overseas voters.

Doug Poland, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he didn’t have estimates of how many disabled people might vote electronically from home in the August and November elections, if the judge issues the temporary injunction.

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

Despite former President Donald Trump's false claims that he lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden because the contest was rigged, voter fraud is extremely rare in the United States. An Associated Press review of every potential case of voter fraud in six battleground states where Trump disputed the 2020 results found fewer than 475 instances, which weren't nearly enough to influence the outcome.

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