People with disabilities continue to push for more accessible voting

Posted at 12:55 PM, Mar 21, 2024

MADISON — Wisconsinites with disabilities are continuing to push for more accessible ways and places to cast a ballot. At the state Capitol on Wednesday, voting was a top concern for many Disability Advocacy Day attendees who met with lawmakers.

Tyler Engel, who has spinal muscular atrophy, relies on a powered wheelchair and the help of a caregiver to return his ballot. The last time he went to his polling location, he said the ramps weren’t up to code, the elevator was out of order and he wasn’t able to open the doors. It’s one of the reasons he prefers voting absentee.

But even absentee voting has become more difficult in recent years, with the Wisconsin Supreme Court outlawing ballot drop boxes in July 2022. Engel said he used a drop box in 2020 and found it to be one of the easiest ways for him to vote.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission found an average of about six accessibility issues at each of the 551 polling sites they visited during a 2022-2023 audit. Some of the most common issues were things like not enough handicap parking spaces, doors that were too heavy to open and accessible entrances that weren’t clearly marked.

Another issue the elections commission is working to address is poll workers not being trained to use accessible voting machines. Nancy Heltemes, board president of Disability Rights Wisconsin, said the last time she went to the polls with her daughter, Savanna, they had to show poll workers how to operate the accessible machines. It’s one of the issues they raised with lawmakers on Wednesday.

“We need your support. If you want us to vote for you, we have to know that you are working in our corner and doing the things that our communities need for everybody,” she said.