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Wisconsin Liberals Fight Lame-Duck Voting Laws

Wisconsin liberal advocacy groups asked a federal judge Monday to block early voting limits that became law when outgoing Republican Governor Scott Walker signed controversial lame-duck bills last week.

MADISON, Wis. (CN) – Wisconsin liberal advocacy groups asked a federal judge Monday to block voting limits that became law when outgoing Republican Governor Scott Walker signed controversial lame-duck bills last week.

One Wisconsin Institute and others filed a memorandum asking U.S. District Judge James Peterson in Madison to enforce the court’s July 2016 injunction and subsequent order blocking the same types of voting restrictions Walker signed into law Friday.

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers at a press conference in 2018. (Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

The lame-duck legislation limits early voting to only two weeks statewide – voters in the safely Democratic cities of Milwaukee and Madison had as long as six weeks to vote early – and adds hurdles to using state IDs for voting, including changes to the identification petition process, or IDPP, which can be used to get temporary voting credentials while waiting for an official state ID.  

Monday’s filing says these new measures “are in direct contravention to this court’s injunction and October 2016 order in this case,” and also ignore the will of midterm voters.

“From governor to treasurer, all six of the statewide races for office were won by Democrats, with at least four of these – governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and treasurer –flipping parties for the first time in several years. Voters made their voices heard, not only on election day, but also in the days leading up to the election through in-person and mail-in absentee voting,” the memo states.

It continues, “Nevertheless, a mere eight days after this historic election, Republican Speaker of Wisconsin’s General Assembly Robin Vos…began taking actions not only to undermine the power of the incoming statewide leaders, but also to ensure that it is harder for Democratic candidates to win future elections by restricting early voting, codifying the unconstitutional IDPP into statutory law, while simultaneously reducing the effective period for receipts, and reinstituting the requirement for expiration dates on university and college IDs.”

Judge Peterson originally upheld the central thrust of voter ID laws in 2016 but ordered the state to provide 180-day IDPP voting credentials to those waiting to receive official state IDs. The lame-duck legislation shortened the validity of those temporary credentials to 60 days.

One Wisconsin Institute and its co-plaintiffs also want the court to throw out a provision in the new laws that says expired university and college IDs cannot be used for voting. Judge Peterson originally overruled that same provision in 2016, stating that expired IDs could still be valid for voting purposes.

The advocacy groups aim to “to preserve the status quo, and to ensure that Wisconsin voters remain free from unconstitutional burdens,” the memo states.

Before the new laws were passed, municipalities in Wisconsin could offer early voting for as long as they saw fit. This allowed more urban areas of the state, namely Milwaukee and Madison, to offer as much as six weeks of early voting this past election. Opponents of the lame-duck voting restrictions see them as an effort to limit the electoral influence of these majority-Democratic parts of the Badger State.

Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Institute, said in a statement Monday that “Wisconsin Republican attempts to rig the rules on voting were unconstitutional in 2016 and they’re unconstitutional today.”

“We are going to back to federal court to ask the judge to enforce his previous ruling and actions to force the GOP to respect our right to vote,” he said.

The group noted that after Judge Peterson struck down limits on early voting in 2016, nearly one in five Wisconsinites voted early or absentee in this year’s midterm election.

One Wisconsin Institute, in addition to groups including the National Redistricting Foundation, are represented by Bruce Spiva and others at the Perkins Coie law firm, which has offices nationwide.

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder also spoke out against the lame-duck efforts, saying that Wisconsin Republicans’ “blatant disregard for a previous court ruling and refusal to listen to the will of the people are another shameful mark on the legacy of Scott Walker and his allies in the Legislature.”

Monday’s filing is the first legal action in response to the lame-duck legislation seeking to reel in the powers of incoming Governor-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul, both Democrats, that has embroiled Wisconsin politics over the last two and a half weeks.

After Judge Peterson’s original 2016 ruling, both sides appealed and the case was sent to the Chicago-based Seventh Circuit, where it remains today. However Peterson rules on the new motion to enforce his injunction, another appeal will likely follow.

Mark Thomsen, a member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission named among the defendants in the case, and representatives of Governor Walker’s office could not be immediately reached Monday for comment.

The next general election in Wisconsin is scheduled to take place on April 2, 2019. The groups that filed the memo “seek resolution of this issue well before that date” in order to give municipalities the time needed to adjust and provide early voting in accordance with the law.

The primary for the April 2 election is scheduled for Feb. 19.

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