Wisconsin Voting Rights Groups Promise Lawsuit Over Early Voting Cuts

Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Friday signed a law that capped early voting at two weeks.

Two voting rights groups quickly announced they plan to take Wisconsin officials to court over a new law that caps early voting to just two weeks in the state.

The measure, signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Friday, was part of a package of bills Wisconsin GOP lawmakers pushed through in their lame-duck session after losses in several statewide races. Some places in the state, including populous Dane and Milwaukee counties, allowed for almost six weeks of early voting this fall, and critics see the cuts as a way to drive down turnout in the state.

One Wisconsin Institute, a progressive advocacy group, pledged on Friday to sue with backing from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a Democratic group focused on voting rights led by former Attorney General Eric Holder.

“This is a shameful attack on our democracy by politicians who will do anything to hold onto power,” Holder said in a statement. “After losing an election, Republicans in the state legislature are using their gerrymandered majorities and their defeated governor to ignore the will of the people. Their actions are grossly partisan, deeply undemocratic and an attack on voting rights. They must not stand.”

This is a shameful attack on our democracy by politicians who will do anything to hold onto power. Former Attorney General Eric Holder

One Wisconsin has already successfully sued Wisconsin over cuts to early voting once before. In 2016, a federal judge previously struck down a similar state law limiting early voting to two weeks before an election. That law had restricted early voting to weekdays between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., and counties could only have one early voting location. U.S. District Judge James Peterson didn’t buy the state’s justification that it wanted uniformity between big cities and rural places when it came to early voting.

“Ensuring equal access to the franchise is certainly a valid state interest, probably even a compelling one. But stifling votes for partisan gain is not a valid interest,” he wrote in his opinion. “And Wisconsin’s approach in this instance was backward: rather than expanding in-person absentee voting in smaller municipalities, the state limited in-person absentee voting in larger municipalities. By doing so, the state has imposed moderate burdens on the residents of those larger municipalities.”

Peterson found African American and Latino voters were more likely to use early voting, and the Wisconsin legislature’s effort to cut early voting, he wrote, “intentionally discriminates on the basis of race.”  

“I am persuaded that this law was specifically targeted to curtail voting in Milwaukee without any other legitimate purpose. The legislature’s immediate goal was to achieve a partisan objective, but the means of achieving that objective was to suppress the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee’s African Americans.”

An appeal of that decision is currently pending at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th circuit. 

The restrictions Walker signed into law Friday are similar to the ones struck down in that case. There are some narrow tweaks; the new measure doesn’t restrict early voting to weekdays and can take place at any time, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.