Judge denies GOP attempt to stop Wisconsin election lawsuit

MADISON — A federal judge in Wisconsin on Wednesday declined a request by Republicans to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Democrats seeking changes in the law to make it easier to vote in the August state primary and November presidential elections.

The Republican National Committee, the state Republican Party and the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Legislature asked for the dismissal of the lawsuit brought by the Democratic National Committee and Wisconsin Democratic Party. But U.S. District Judge William Conley said in his order Wednesday that the case should move ahead quickly so it can be resolved far ahead of the elections.

He set a June 29 hearing to discuss the lawsuit, which was filed before the April 7 presidential primary election and consolidated with two other cases. A fourth federal lawsuit, filed by Disability Rights Wisconsin and others, has also since been filed seeking additional changes to make it easier to vote.

Republicans oppose all of the lawsuits.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled just a day before the April election to block Democratic efforts to extend absentee voting. Democrats amended the lawsuit after that election, arguing that changes are still needed in light of in-person voting challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“As was amply demonstrated in the fire drill leading up to the April election, the longer this court delays, the less like constitutional relief to voters is going to be effective and the more likely that relief may cause voter confusion and burden election officials charged with its administration,” Conley wrote.

The lawsuit Conley allowed to move forward seeks to: do away with the requirement that proof of address and a photo ID be provided with voter registration and absentee ballot applications submitted electronically and by mail; extend the electronic and by-mail registration deadlines to the Friday before both elections; extend the deadline for clerks to receive absentee ballots from 8 p.m. on election day to within 10 days of the election and; suspend the requirement that absentee ballots include a witness' signature.

Conley said he was unlikely to rule in favor of Democrats on issues that have been repeatedly upheld in federal courts, including the law requiring Wisconsin voters to provide documentary proof of residency when registering to vote.

Democrats also argued that the state must ensure there are “safe and sufficient” places to vote in person across Wisconsin. Conley ordered the Wisconsin Elections Commission, by June 25, to address what steps it was taking to prepare for the elections and whether it believes any of the changes sought in the lawsuit would improve administration of the elections.

The commission consists of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats and is unlikely to vote for or against any of the changes sought by the lawsuit.