Judge allows email ballots for Wisconsin voters with disabilities

absentee ballots
Posted at 11:18 AM, Jun 25, 2024

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin voters with disabilities will be able to receive their ballots by email this fall under a temporary ruling issued Tuesday.

Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell instructed clerks to not only allow email delivery of absentee ballots for the November election but also to ensure that the ballots are capable of being filled out electronically.

The decision is a win for voters whose disabilities prevent them from reading or marking a paper ballot, but it does not allow for ballots to be returned electronically.

Disability advocacy groups and four Wisconsin voters with disabilities sued the Wisconsin Elections Commission in April, arguing that not being able to receive and return their ballots electronically violates their right to cast a vote in secret.

“I rely on a lot of caregivers for my basic needs. I don’t feel comfortable disclosing my political beliefs to these people. If my belief differs from theirs, I can’t risk having a person quit, especially given the ongoing caregiver shortage,” said Stacy Ellingen, an Oshkosh resident with athetoid spastic cerebral palsy.

Mitchell’s temporary ruling will remain in place until the court has heard the full arguments in the lawsuit. It’s unclear whether the commission or the state Legislature, which has intervened in the case, plan to appeal Tuesday’s decision.

Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesperson Riley Vetterkind did not immediately comment on the ruling when asked about it on Tuesday morning.

Attorneys for the elections commission warned in a hearing on Monday that it could take months to implement email ballot delivery and argued it was too close to the November election to make those changes.

Wisconsin has one of the most decentralized election systems in the nation, with more than 1,800 local clerks administering elections. The elections commission would have to ensure that each of those clerks has the necessary training and software to send email ballots that could be read and filled out on a computer, attorneys said.

Clerks in Wisconsin were previously allowed to send ballots to voters via email until 2011 when then-Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, signed a bill limiting that option to military and overseas voters.

“Ultimately I’d really like to see electronic return as well,” Ellingen said after the hearing Monday. “I’m unable to physically put [a ballot] in the mailbox myself, and because of the lack of transportation options, it’s nearly impossible to get to the clerk’s office.”

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