A federal judge on Thursday blocked controversial cuts to early voting and other changes to election law that Wisconsin Republicans pushed through during a controversial lame-duck session and now-former Gov. Scott Walker signed late last year.
U.S. District Judge James Peterson said the changes to Wisconsin’s voting law, which included limiting early voting to two weeks before an election, violated a 2016 court order blocking the state from making similar changes. Ruling on a lawsuit against the limits, he said it wasn’t even a close case.
In 2016 he blocked a Wisconsin law that restricted early voting to two weeks before an election on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Counties could have only one early voting location. The measure that state Republicans passed in December ― and was blocked Thursday ― also allowed only two weeks of early voting but didn’t restrict it to weekdays and said it could take place at any time.
In his earlier ruling, Peterson blocked Wisconsin from enforcing “the state-imposed limits on the time for in-person absentee voting,” he wrote. Putting a two-week cap on early voting, he said, violated his order. He was unpersuaded by an argument that his 2016 order didn’t apply because Wisconsin had passed a new law.
“The scope of the injunction relates to conduct that the court concluded was unlawful; the particular statutory provisions at issue are not important,” he wrote.
An appeal of Peterson’s 2016 order is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.
The state’s Gov. Tony Evers (D) praised the ruling.
“We have to make sure folks have the opportunity to participate in our democracy. That’s why I believe we should be making it easier for Wisconsinites to vote, not harder. I’m glad to see that a federal court has again struck down Republicans’ unconstitutional attacks on our right to vote,” he said in a statement.
Critics said Wisconsin Republicans passed the voting restrictions because they were stung after losing all five statewide races this fall. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) blamed Walker’s loss in the governor’s race on Milwaukee and Dane counties, both of which allowed for almost six weeks of early voting.
Peterson also blocked two provisions in the lame-duck law that barred students from using an expired student ID to vote and allowed them to use a temporary ID only within 60 days of getting it. Those restrictions were blocked by his 2016 court order as well.
The suit was filed by One Wisconsin Institute and Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund, progressive advocacy groups, with backing from the National Redistricting Foundation, part of a Democratic group led by former Attorney General Eric Holder focused on voting-rights issues.
“Today’s court ruling is a victory for the citizens of Wisconsin and a rebuke to their defeated former governor and his cronies in the state legislature,” Holder said in a statement. “Every voter in the state should be asking one question: why are Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature so afraid of the people they claim they want to represent? Though we are heartened by this decision we will continue to fight any further efforts designed to undermine democracy in Wisconsin or any other part of our nation.”
This story has been updated to include statements from Tony Evers and Eric Holder and information on the 2018 elections and one of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs.