Wisconsin Judge Expands Voter Accessibility for November General Election

Wisconsin voters with disabilities will be able to request and receive accessible absentee ballots via email during the November 2024 election due to a temporary injunction issued today by Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell. 

As a result of the ruling, which Mitchell handed down following a hearing yesterday, Wisconsin election officials must facilitate the availability of electronically delivered, accessible absentee ballots requested by voters with print disabilities. 

Print disabilities include blindness, visual impairment, intellectual disabilities and other impairments to manual dexterity that prevent certain voters from reading, marking or handling a paper ballot on their own. 

Mitchell’s order comes as part of a lawsuit filed in April by Disability Rights Wisconsin, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and four individual voters who challenge the inaccessibility of Wisconsin’s absentee voting system under the state and federal constitutions as well as federal disability rights statutes. 

The ruling clarified that for an electronically delivered absentee ballot to be “accessible,” it “must be capable of being read and interacted with, including marked, by a voter with a print disability using digital assistive technology such as a screen reader.” Mitchell also stipulated that while voters with print disabilities will be able to receive and mark their absentee ballots electronically using an at-home accessibility device, they must return them either by mail or in person. 

Prior to today’s injunction, Wisconsin failed to provide voters with print disabilities the option to receive and mark their absentee ballots electronically, instead only offering electronic absentee voting to military and overseas voters. 

According to the lawsuit, the state’s lack of access to at-home electronic absentee voting is harmful to voters with print disabilities and elderly voters, who are often forced to seek assistance with filling out and submitting their ballots in a manner that violates their independence and privacy while voting. 

Debra Cronmiller, executive director of the League of Women Voters Wisconsin, previously explained to Democracy Docket that implementing an electronic voting option for those with print disabilities would not be overly onerous for state election officials.  

“It’s not as though WEC or clerks would have to create or purchase new equipment or new mechanisms for getting ballots into the hands of people who need them,” Cronmiller said. “It is literally about the statutes prohibiting that electronic ballot from being issued to anyone who’s not overseas or military.”

Mitchell’s temporary injunction applies to Wisconsin’s November general election, but not the state’s Aug. 13 primary elections. Following today’s ruling, litigation will continue to determine whether state election officials must permanently provide voters with print disabilities the option to receive, mark and return their absentee ballots electronically.

Read the order here.

Learn more about the case here.