ACLU says mail-only election will disenfranchise thousands of voters

MILWAUKEE – The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin and a coalition of voting rights advocates today filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Election Commission to demand that all jurisdictions that have canceled early in-person voting promptly restore in-person absentee voting as required under Wisconsin law. 

The complaint, signed by ACLU of Wisconsin, All Voting is Local, Common Cause in Wisconsin, Disability Rights Wisconsin, The Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, and Wisconsin Voices, states that “while the City may modify procedures to reduce risk of exposure during in-person absentee voting, as other essential services like grocery stores have, it must make available this essential means of participating in our democratic process.”

“While it’s imperative to expand access to voting by mail, in-person voting must remain an option, especially for voters with disabilities, the elderly, and those without access to reliable mail service,” said Chris Ott, ACLU of Wisconsin executive director. “We urge Milwaukee officials to protect public health without jeopardizing our democratic process or disenfranchising voters whose voices need to be heard.” 

The ACLU of Wisconsin warned that a mandatory vote-by-mail election on April 7th would disenfranchise many voters, including voters who planned to register in person at the polls, elderly voters, voters with disabilities, and voters in low-income communities.

“While we applaud the concept of sending ballots to all registered voters, we strongly object to cancellation of in-person voting,” said Karyn L. Rotker senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Even so-called ‘vote by mail’ states provide alternate opportunities for voters to register and vote in-person.  Wisconsin must retain such options for people to make their voices heard.”

The ACLU of Wisconsin also urged elected officials to develop a comprehensive emergency plan to address the problems that could occur on a rescheduled spring election date, or at the time of the August 11 or November 3 elections, should this (or another) crisis continue or recur.

“It is clear that neither state nor local officials have anticipated anything like the crisis we are experiencing, nor have they implemented a comprehensive emergency plan to address COVID-19. The situation we have before us now shows clearly that this is essential,” said Ott. “State and local officials must have a detailed and specific plan that ensures voters’ ability to participate in the democratic process through this year and beyond. Voters, as well as the legitimacy of this and future elections, depend on it.”