Proposed voting restrictions will disenfranchise folks with disabilities, advocates say

The Republican legislature in the Wisconsin State Legislature tabled a series of bills earlier this year aimed at reducing postal voting in future elections.

Several provisions of the enacted legislation raised critics’ concerns that the proposals could deprive elderly, disabled and indefinitely restricted voters if they were converted into law.

SB203, SB204 and SB205for example, would require voters under 65 years of age to obtain a medical certificate confirming their status as “perpetual restriction” and provide photo ID to elect that voters must reapply for perpetual restriction every two years , Prohibit anyone who is not an immediate family member or a single nominated person from issuing the ballot of an immobilized voter, and charge election officials with a crime for sending postal ballot papers or postal ballot applications to voters who have not requested postal ballots.

Additional provisions would seek to eliminate postal voting events, limit postal voting boxes to one per community, and prevent assisted care staff from promoting voter turnout.

The spate of restrictive electoral laws was defended by co-author Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville), who insisted that his proposals raise voters’ concerns about what he described as potential irregularities in the Wisconsin electoral process during last year’s election , should disperse.

“Wisconsinites have become skeptical of the integrity of our elections,” Stroebel said in an email statement. “Republican lawmakers heard these concerns, and we passed common sense laws to increase public confidence in the electoral process and the results of our elections.”

Despite claims by Stroebel, op tell of the 2020 election results in Wisconsin – conducted at the request of the Trump campaign–Confirmed President Joe Biden’s victory in the state, and no solid evidence of widespread postal voting fraud has been exposed in the state.

The emphasis on photo ID requirements drew the ire of disability and franchise advocates across the state, including the director of the Wisconsin Disability Rights Bureau (DRW) in Milwaukee, Barbara Beckert.

Barbara Beckert. Photo courtesy of DRW.

Beckert said a significant proportion of voters with disabilities cannot drive or have a driver’s license, which hindered their ability to obtain ID from the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles and prompted their organization to release one Letter Calling on the state to improve the existing options for obtaining photo ID.

“So many people with disabilities are non-drivers,” said Beckert. “The lack of access to transportation is a huge barrier not only to voting, but Wisconsin has one of the most restrictive photo identification laws in the country. People with disabilities often do not have a driver’s license. DMV opening times of the locations are very limited. Getting there to get photo ID can be a very high bar. “

DRW is a member of the Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition (WDVC), a Community work

Established by the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities (BPDD) and DRW, which focuses on outreach and education for disabled voters.

Beckert said most of the WDVC’s 2020 election assistance efforts focused on ensuring that disabled voters can access the mailboxes or find people to cast their ballots.

“In some of the big elections last year, we reached out to various groups of the elderly and disabled communities across the state and invited them to share information about what local resources are available to provide transportation, and then we had a database on our website, where people can search by municipality or district and find out which modes of transport are available, ”said Beckert.

However, with lawmakers aiming for postal ballot papers, Beckert fears that groups working with the WDVC will have greater difficulty protecting access to ballot papers for disabled, elderly, or indefinitely restricted Wisconsinites should the laws put in place into law become.

Similar concerns were raised by Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Executive Director Matt Rothschild, who said he feared restricting who can return a completed postal ballot on behalf of a disabled voter poses logistical problems for unlimitedly restricted voters and leads to widespread disenfranchisement could.

“They [disabled voters] can only assign it [dropping off a ballot] to a specific person, and that person cannot issue more than two postal ballot papers for anyone in the state, ”said Rothschild. “If you have a direct relative in Wisconsin, you must ask that relative to hand over the ballot. You can’t ask anyone else. For example, suppose you are in Madison and your only direct relative is a brother who lives in Superior. They are unlikely to be shutting down from Superior to help you cast a ballot. “

For now, the constituencies do not have to worry that the state government will implement a bill to restrict postal voting. Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, is likely to veto Bills proposed by the GOP-controlled legislature to restrict postal voting, but there is still potential for a Republican government to further restrict access to voting in 2024 and beyond.

Next year, Evers is appointed governor for a second term in a. to run for office fought over State of the battlefield. Should he lose his re-election bid and the Republican Party retain control of the legislature, it is entirely plausible, if not likely, that the Conservatives will reintroduce and re-implement all electoral laws blocked by Evers during that term.

Even if Evers defeats his opponent in 2022, the Republicans only have to pick them up in the state parliament a Senate seat and four assembly stations to form the veto-safe majority required to pass their proposals.

While Democrats work in other Republican-controlled legislative bodies, such as the Texas Having the ability to prevent a legislative vote by resigning and refusing a quorum, the rules of the Wisconsin State Legislature do not allow the minority party to pursue a similar approach.

A successful election cycle for the GOP next year would put Wisconsin’s liberal lawmakers in a bind, virtually guaranteeing a number of new electoral laws to be enacted before 2024, but Democrats hope to meet their fate in 2022 through the post-census redistribution process to change from 2020.

Democratic Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) admitted that his party could do very little to block Republican electoral laws if the party expanded its legislative majority in what the Democrats see as a rigged voting card.

“When it comes to that [of an expanded GOP majority], there is nothing that lawmakers can do to stop this, ”said Larson. “The only thing that could happen is if there is a judicial challenge when a lawsuit is filed. then [the outcome of] That depends on whether it is a state court or a federal court, and then it depends on the political inclinations of the judge or the judicial panel, whatever the case. “

Legal challenges are the modus operandi for grassroots and legal organizations that want to challenge electoral laws.

In 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued then-Governor Scott Walker in response to a voter ID law that the organization said violated the Voting Rights Act and Fourteenth Amendment.

In 2020, Beckert said DRW entered a legal action Alleged failure of the state to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act for failure to indefinitely provide restricted voters with adequate access to postal ballot papers.

“Wisconsin is one of the few states that do not have accessible postal voting and fair access to postal voting for people who need assistive technology to vote privately and independently,” Becker said ADA provisions were included in this lawsuit. “

With the possibility of new postal voting restrictions in the coming years, DRW is preparing for potential litigation in 2023 and beyond.

Beckert said her organization stands ready to challenge various provisions of the legislature’s postal voting laws, but remains optimistic that Congress will act to enshrine greater protection for disabled voters in national law.

“First and foremost, we have a legal strategy to see if there is a way to go to court and address some of these new barriers and restrictions imposed by the legal system,” Beckert said. “We also hoped that we would see more regulation and oversight at the federal level to ensure more coherence on voting rights, including for voters with disabilities.”

Larson expressed similar hopes for a federal legislative change; Encouraging Wisconsinites to vote for candidates who opposed what he called restrictive electoral laws.

Larson said legal action may not be required as citizens currently have the option to counter an agenda they disagree with in the voting booth.

“The law is on the side of the people who can vote, not the side of those trying to stop it and create a barrier,” said Larson. “That’s the point. You’re just trying to create confusion. The challenge [to absentee voting] is by design and the only way to remove the challenge is to vote for people who actually want to hear your voice. “

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