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Advocacy group pushing for ADA compliant absentee ballots

Published: Sep. 27, 2021 at 6:16 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 27, 2021 at 6:35 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - Although National Voter Registration Day is Tuesday, the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired is pushing for change when it comes to accessible absentee ballots in the state.

Completing our civic duty of voting isn’t a simple task for everyone.

“I’m unable to have that same basic right of being able to vote privately and independently,” said Denise Jess, the Executive Director for the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Jess is legally blind, and said only some polling locations in the state are Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant.

“For those of us who can’t interact with that ballot visually, or aren’t able to read it, or have a profound learning disability or reading related disability--we’re really vulnerable,” she said.

She explained transportation is a barrier for those living with disabilities, and not all polling locations offer Braille. The other option is to request an absentee ballot, but the process is not always ADA compliant.

Like many others, Jess needs to entrust a person to fill out her absentee ballot, but she doesn’t know if her choices are respected.

“Frankly, the word I would use --it’s humiliating. It’s a compromise of my dignity,” she said.

For years, Jess has been pushing to have absentee ballots sent out via email to use with software that reads the ballot to the user. However, her efforts have not gained traction in the state legislature.

Early last year, absentee ballots became a crucial way to vote during the pandemic. The Wisconsin Elections Commission said more than 173,000 people requested an absentee ballot by March 2020, which was more than any of the previous three spring elections.

Jess is once again concerned with COVID risks during next year’s election.

“I think people shouldn’t have to choose, ‘Do I risk my health or do I risk my right?’ It shouldn’t be an either, or situation,” she said.

She hopes a bill can be drafted in the next legislative session to make accessible absentee ballots widespread. However, she knows it will take a few years to include the new software for absentee ballots, but hopes at least Braille absentee ballots can be easier to access for the 2022 Spring Election.

The League of Women Voters of the US and Greater Green Bay support the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired efforts for improvement.

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