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Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Disenfranching People with Disabilities

 In The Politics of Autism, I write:  "Support from the general public will be an important political asset for autistic people. Another will be their sheer numbers, since a larger population of identified autistic adults will mean more autistic voters and activists."

Barbara Sprunt at NPR:
Nationally, the 2020 election saw a big uptick in voters with disabilities casting ballots, as many states took steps to ease access amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The share of people with disabilities who reported having a problem voting dropped from 26.1% in 2012 to 11.4% in 2020, according to a study from Rutgers University.

But now, many voters with disabilities are warily following efforts across the country by Republican-led states to tighten voting rules following the 2020 election, in what conservatives say are steps to shore up election integrity.

In Wisconsin, the crux of the legal case over drop boxes and returning ballots is the interpretation of a portion of state law that details the absentee ballot return process.

"The envelope shall be mailed by the elector, or delivered in person, to the municipal clerk issuing the ballot or ballots," the statute reads.

Rick Esenberg, president of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which represented the plaintiffs in the original lawsuit, says the law is explicit.

"I think [the court] ought to read the law as it is written, and say that the law means what it says," he says.

But many voters with disabilities — along with others who live in congregate settings, like those incarcerated or in nursing homes — say a strict interpretation of the law leaves them behind.

"I do feel like I'm being punished just because I'm physically not able to put a ballot in a mailbox," says Stacy Ellingen, a regular absentee voter in Oshkosh.

She has athetoid cerebral palsy and uses an app on her phone that takes her typed text and speaks her words aloud.

"My caregivers help me fill out the ballot and put it in the mailbox. It's literally the only way for me to vote," she says. "If this stands, I wouldn't be able to vote for the people actually making the decisions that affect my life."