September 12-16 is both National Disability Voting Rights Week and National Voter Registration Week. Assuring the rights of voters with vision loss is an important advocacy priority for the Council. To celebrate this week, we encourage everyone to understand your rights and to make your voting plan for the November 8 midterm election.
Absentee Voting: If you plan to vote absentee, please do so several weeks before the election to ensure that your ballot is received at your polling place no later than 8:00 p.m. on Election Day. With the delays in mail delivery, we suggest mailing your ballot at least two weeks before the election.
Remember that you will need to have your ballot witnessed and the certification envelope signed by both you and your witness. If someone is assisting you in completing your ballot, this must also be noted. Your assistant and witness may be the same person. Due to recent administrative rules changes, clerks can no longer “cure” small errors, like adding a forgotten zip code on the certification envelope. Please have your witness carefully check that all information is accurate on the return envelope.
Wisconsin currently does not have a way for people with vision loss to vote absentee privately and independently, as we are still reliant on having someone else complete our ballot on our behalf. The Council will continue our work to advocate for an accessible absentee ballot in the 2023-24 legislative session.
Ballot Return: After the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling in the Teigen case in June that resulted in disallowing the use of ballot drop boxes and limiting ballot return, there was confusion among both voters and election officials on whether a voter could have someone else return their ballot. A recent federal ruling assures the rights of voters with disabilities to receive assistance in returning their ballot. This assistant can be anyone of the voter’s choosing except the voter’s employer or union representative. Specific instructions to voting officials are still in development at this writing.
Accessible Voting Equipment: If you vote in person, Wisconsin law guarantees the right to use the accessible voting equipment in the polling place. This equipment uses both screen reading and magnification technology to make the ballot readable for people with print-related disabilities. While this equipment should be set up, fully functional and tested when the polls open, we hear countless stories from around the state that voters run into access barriers when attempting to use the equipment. We encourage you to contact your clerk in advance of the election to let them know you plan to use the equipment and that you want to be sure it is ready and that poll workers have had proper training in its use.
Voting Assistance: Wisconsin law also guarantees the right of voters with disabilities to ask for assistance in completing the ballot. This is a person of the voter’s choosing, excluding the voter’s employer, union representative or a candidate on the ballot. Poll workers are required to assist when asked. Voters have shared with us that some poll workers have declined to assist, believing that they were not allowed to help. That belief is incorrect.
Other Accommodations: All polling places should be equipped with signature guides, magnifying glasses and chairs for sitting. The Council has helped advocate for the Wisconsin Elections Commission to facilitate a supply program where any clerk can order large print signs, signature guides, magnifiers, doorbells and other accessibility supplies at no cost to the municipality. Ask for these tools if you need them.
Encountering an Access Issue: If you encounter an access issue while at the polls, ask to speak with the Chief Elections Inspector to resolve it in real time. The Chief Elections Inspector is the “supervisor” of the polling site. If you are not satisfied with the resolution, ask to speak with your clerk.
Disability Rights Voter Hotline: If you are unable to resolve an issue with your local officials and need assistance, call the Disability Rights Voter Hotline at 844-347-8683.
Sharing Your Voting Story: We’d love to hear your voter story. If an election official provided excellent support so that you could fully exercise your right to vote, we’d love to help celebrate this. If you experienced difficulties, these stories assist in our advocacy efforts. You can use the Share Your Story form here. You can also email your story to Communications Director Bob Jacobson or call Bob at 608-237-8111.
Also consider reporting your experience to the Wisconsin Elections Commission using their accessibility concerns page. While we hear many stories directly from voters, having them documented with the Elections Commission is a vital component in advocating for change.
As people with vision loss, it’s critical that our life experiences, perspectives and needs are represented in our local, state and national governing bodies. Our votes matter in this November mid-term election and in every election.
To learn more about voting rights and access, we invite you to register for two upcoming online information sessions:
- Empowering the Disability Vote: Civic Engagement for the Disability Community and Their Allies
Thursday, September 15
Online via Zoom
This presentation, co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Milwaukee County, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, and the Disability Vote Coalition, will explore current challenges to voting. There are both legal and physical ways to deal with the barriers for people with disabilities. Presenters include Barbara Beckert, Director of External Advocacy, Disability Rights Wisconsin; Denise Jess, Executive Director, Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired; Scott Thompson, Staff Counsel, Law Forward; and Dorothy Dean, Founder & CEO, Disability Justice. Learn more and register online for Empowering the Disability Vote.
- Interactive Session on Voting Rights
Thursday, September 29
Online via Zoom or Facebook Live
Vision Forward, Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition, Disability Rights Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Statutory Council on Blindness are teaming up for this interactive session covering information on how to vote and your voting rights. We will also address barriers voters have experienced in previous elections and your accessible voting options for the November 8th election. Submit your voting questions before the session to Info@Vision-Forward.org.
To register to vote, request an absentee ballot, see what’s on your ballot, find your polling place or check the status of your absentee ballot, visit the WI Elections Commission’s My Vote website.
To learn more about the WI Disability Vote Coalition and get involved, you can sign up to receive newsletters and access other information online.
To learn more about National Disability Voting Rights Week, visit the American Association of People with Disabilities website.