Overcoming Barriers to Voting

A person’s hands use an accessible voting machine.

Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired staff serve on statewide coalitions that empower people with disabilities to have accessible voting and transportation options. One of these coalitions is the Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition (WDVC).

Among other activities, the WDVC shares real voter experiences with the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC). In turn, WEC shares reported accessibility complaints with the WDVC. The more often accessibility issues are recorded, the more likely WEC is to identify solutions.

Why Accessibility Matters: In-Person Voting

Filing a complaint is an opportunity to create a voting solution that can impact thousands of lives. It is a way to help not only yourself, but others who use your polling place and/or accessible voting equipment throughout the state.

Danita Jackson of Milwaukee is blind and an avid voter. She was concerned about the availability and hygiene of the headphones that accompany the accessible voting machine at her polling place.

“One place I went in the April primary didn’t have any headphones at the accessible voting machine,” she says. “So I had to have my niece fill out the ballot for me.” When she voted in August, she had to use headphones that had not been cleaned after the person before her.

“Twice in a row was not a good sign for me,” she says. “I was worried that for the election right now (November), they would not be prepared.”

So she filed a complaint with the Milwaukee Elections Commission. Claire Woodall-Vogg, Executive Director of the City of Milwaukee Election Commission, responded by saying that she would supply multiple headphones with each accessible voting machine in Milwaukee, as well as an extra in case more were needed on Election Day.

WEC was also notified of the issue and responded by doing a statewide training on how to clean the headsets. Cleaning accessible voting equipment was also incorporated it into a WDVC webinar with city clerks in August. Danita was relieved that when she early voting in-person last week, the headphones she used were sanitized.

Why Accessibility Matters: Absentee Voting

Denise Jess voted absentee for this month’s election, but was dismayed that the process did not enable her to fill out her ballot privately and independently. She usually votes in-person using accessible voting equipment, but chose not to this year due to health vulnerabilities in her family. Because Wisconsin does not send out electronic ballots to non-military citizens, and sends a limited number of braille ballots, people who are blind or visually impaired must have someone assist them in marking their ballot.

“I’m grateful to have family members who could do this for me and whom I trust to mark my ballot according to my request,” says Denise. “I know other Wisconsinites aren’t as fortunate. Even though I was able to vote, it was disheartening to not vote privately and independently; it was a sacrifice of my basic rights as a voter.”

Denise registered a complaint with WEC, in the hopes that they investigate emailed, screen-reader accessible and braille ballots.

“It can sometimes feel really demoralizing, when we’ve had a negative experience, to say something about it, believing that no one will listen,” says Denise. “But by submitting a complaint you are educating local and state officials about our needs as voters with disabilities.” She encourages others to submit complaints, even if their issue was resolved.

Complaint Process

To make a complaint, visit Elections.wi.gov/Complaints.

  1. Select “Report an Accessibility Concern.”
  2. Select a concern category. The options are polling place accessibility, curbside voting, voting equipment, website accessibility and other.
  3. Enter your name, email address, phone number, address, polling place location and municipality.
  4. Write your comments in the open-ended response box towards the bottom of the form.
  5. 5elect “Submit.”

WEC staff will then look into your concern and follow up with the affected parties to resolve barriers if necessary. While most accessibility concerns can be addressed through this form, file a sworn complaint if you are requesting formal determinations or remedies. A sworn complaint involves having your complaint witnessed and notarized.

In addition to filing a complaint, it can be helpful to let poll workers or your municipal clerk know about accessibility concerns when they happen, at your polling place or when you submit your ballot. They can help troubleshoot issues at the local level.

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