The debate over absentee ballots is far from over.
Despite a state Supreme Court ruling barring absentee ballot drop boxes, controversy continues over how that decision is actually implemented and whether clerks can fix minor errors on absentee ballot envelopes.
And now comes a federal lawsuit.
Four Wisconsinites with disabilities have filed a federal lawsuit against the Wisconsin Elections Commission and Administrator Meagan Wolfe, arguing they interpreted the state Supreme Court’s recent absentee ballot drop box decision in a way that will disenfranchise disabled voters.
The lawsuit addresses comments Wolfe made in a July 14 press conference following the ruling that absentee ballot drop boxes are illegal in the state. At the time, Wolfe said voters are required to return their own ballots, but also said voters should look to their local clerks for guidance.
The plaintiffs in the complaint write they are seeking an injunction to stop WEC administering elections “in any manner that does not permit disabled voters to receive third-party assistance in returning properly marked absentee ballots.”
Following the presser, WEC spokesman Riley Vetterkind clarified in an email to reporters Wolfe’s comments “should not be interpreted as a policy statement or statutory interpretation, but rather a direct reference to state statutes on this topic.”
State law requires absentee ballots “shall be mailed by the elector, or delivered in person, to the municipal clerk issuing the ballot or ballots.”
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs note disabled voters are often incapable of putting their own ballots in the mail. They argue Wolfe’s remarks and the Supreme Court ruling send “a disturbing message to voters with disabilities: ballot-return assistance is prohibited in all circumstances throughout Wisconsin.”
The plaintiffs in the case — Timothy Carey, Martha Chambers, Scott Luber and Michael Reece — each require assistance to return their absentee ballots and vote.
The Supreme Court ruled that those other than the voter can’t return ballots in person or to the clerk but did not decide whether a voter can have someone else place their absentee ballot in the mail.
The plaintiffs say not allowing disabled voters to have someone turn in their ballot for them violates the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1982, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
Meanwhile, the Waukesha County GOP and others filed a suit in Waukesha County Circuit Court seeking an order to bar clerks from fixing missing or incorrect information on absentee ballot envelopes.
And Joint Administrative Rules Committee Co-chair Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitwater, has asked legislative leaders to file a lawsuit against the commission for continuing to issue clerks guidance on curing absentee ballot envelopes.
For more, visit WisPolitics.com
The Capitol Report is written by editorial staff at WisPolitics.com, a nonpartisan, Madison-based news service that specializes in coverage of government and politics, and is distributed for publication by members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.