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WI Group Sees New Path Forward for Voting Rights

Ballot Box
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American at a polling booth

After a defeat on Wednesday, Democrats in the U.S. Senate say they'll keep trying to pass voting-rights legislation, and one Wisconsin group wants any new proposals to exclude a provision in the bill which did not pass.

Barbara Beckert, director of the Milwaukee office of Disability Rights Wisconsin, said the package considered by the Senate this week included a paper-ballot mandate. She pointed out it concerned many voters with disabilities, because the ability to cast a paper ballot, privately and independently, is not an option for some.

"We think it's important to have a carve-out for voters covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), so they would not be required to vote by paper ballot," Beckert explained.

Beckert noted current law does not include such a mandate, and some folks with disabilities already use accessible voting machines or vote absentee without generating a paper ballot.

Last year, a coalition of 20 disability-rights groups voiced their opposition to the mandate, arguing it would disenfranchise voters with disabilities and stifle innovation to develop voting systems better suited to their needs.

Beckert added voting-rights legislation is important to ensure fair access for Wisconsinites. Her group thinks future efforts should include provisions for screen-reader-accessible and ADA-compliant absentee ballots.

"And that would allow equitable access to absentee voting for voters who are blind, or have other disabilities, where they do not have the ability to physically mark the ballot and need assistive technology," Beckert emphasized.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 19 states passed laws restricting voting access in 2021. Some similar bills in Wisconsin were vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

During this week's Senate debate, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., criticized her counterpart, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., for encouraging Wisconsin's Legislature to take control of the state's elections. Baldwin, quoting reporting from the New York Times, alleged Johnson had said the process was legally permissible.

"'An extraordinary legal argument debunked by a 1932 Supreme Court decision and a 1964 ruling from the Wisconsin Supreme Court,' end quote from the New York Times," Baldwin said.

In a statement, Johnson argued Democrats, in attempting to bypass the filibuster to get the voting-rights legislation passed, were mounting a federal takeover of elections, calling the move a "naked power grab."

Born and raised in Indiana, Jonah Chester has been covering issues in Wisconsin for the past several years. He previously worked at WORT 89.9 FM in Madison, where he earned awards for his coverage of everything from law enforcement and policing to the 2020 presidential election.
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