Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition preparing people for November election
FOX VALLEY, Wis. (WBAY) - Election days look a lot different this year during the pandemic. For some, it’s changed where they vote or even how they vote.
“It’s your right, and it’s your responsibility,” said Jennifer Neugart.
But, for people with disabilities, even a normal election year can bring certain challenges.
Grassroots Disability Coordinator Neugart says the Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition tries to bridge that gap.
“The goal is really just to make sure that people with disabilities and older adults can participate in the whole electoral process,” said Neugart.
Through its website, Facebook page, and through webinars the coalition tries to provide education and assistance.
“How to register, how to request a ballot, what are your rights at the polling places,” said Neugart.
Neugart says in a normal election year getting to a polling place can be difficult for those with disabilities who can’t drive.
“A lot of them live in areas that don’t have public transportation or a cab system,” said Neugart.
Neugart says that also means many of them don’t have a driver’s license or state-issued ID handy to vote in person or absentee.
“Getting to the DMV to get one is a huge challenge which has just been exacerbated by the pandemic with the hours being reduced even more,” said Neugart.
Though the coalition encourages absentee voting during the pandemic to avoid a health risk, that can pose its own challenges. Not only in requesting a ballot but also trying to complete one.
“People with visual impairments have had issues with the absentee ballots, being able to use a screen reader to read their ballot,” said Neugart. “So we’re working on changing the ballot to make it ADA compliant.”
The pandemic has also curtailed the use of special election deputies who typically visit nursing or assisted care facilities to help residents vote.
“Only essential medical personnel are being allowed into care facilities at this point,” said Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe.
Wolfe says in April and August, and likely for November, they’ve instead sent absentee ballots to voters in those facilities and provided additional information to caretakers.
“To make sure that care facilities know how to assist voters with that process and what’s prohibited in terms of assistance to voters at those facilities,” said Wolfe. “Municipal clerks have also been doing a lot of work in their communities to help assist those voters, make sure they have opportunities to receive their ballots by mail and opportunities to get the ballots back or for the clerks to go get the ballots from the care facilities to make sure they’re received and counted.”
In April, when many polling places were consolidated or changed, Neugart noted many experienced difficulties with curbside voting. Curbside voting, by state statute, should be provided to voters who are unable to enter a polling place due to a disability.
“There was a lot of confusion at many polling places,” said Neugart. “That it wasn’t being followed or they didn’t have a clear process for how they were going to do it, so a lot of people were disenfranchised and didn’t end up voting.”
Overall, Neugart believes things have improved since April.
“There have been a lot of lessons learned, and while we’re still experiencing difficulties, it is much improved from the April election so it should be nearly as chaotic as that one was,” said Neugart.
She encourages people to help out if they know someone needs it.
“Be a voter buddy to somebody. Help them with the paperwork, or getting online and figuring out how to do it online,” said Neugart. “People have to take action, they can’t sit this one out.”
For those who do need help, Neugart hopes they reach out to the coalition or someone they know for help.
“Educate yourself, make a plan so you’re not scrambling at the last minute, reach out to people in your circle if you need it, reach out to us and just make it happen,” said Neugart. "Make a plan and vote.
The Winnebago Co. Aging and Disability Resource Center is hosting a webinar with Neugart and others next week to inform people of the obstacles they may face in regards to voting and how to overcome them.
That virtual call will be held Tuesday Sept. 15 from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. Call 1-877-866-2372 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for the zoom link or call-in number.
People with immediate questions can also call the coalition help line at 1-844-347-8683.
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