The state Supreme Court has declined to fast track a case seeking to force from the rolls thousands of Wisconsin voters who may have moved, making it likely the suit won’t be resolved until after the Nov. 3 election.
The court recently rejected 5-2 a motion to decide the case on briefs alone or hear oral arguments in August, shortly after the new term begins. Instead, the majority ordered oral arguments, but not before Sept. 29.
Meanwhile, a federal appeals court has reinstated a Republican limit on in-person absentee voting.
The Elections Commission has sent local clerks guidance on the ruling, informing them in-person absentee voting for the Aug. 11 primary can’t start until July 28.
Under the law that’s back in effect, the option must end Aug. 9, the Sunday before the election.
The commission also pointed out there is no limit on the maximum number of hours that early, in-person voting can be offered and municipalities can offer it at multiple sites.
Republicans originally approved restrictions on early voting that included the number of hours it could be offered and limiting it to one site per municipality. But after those restrictions were put on hold by a federal judge, Republicans repealed that law in the 2018 lame-duck session and put different limits in place.
A recent federal appeals court ruling allows that 2018 law to now be enforced. The appeals court unanimously upheld a series of GOP-authored election laws that among other things limited early voting to the two weeks before an election, roughly a third of the window that traditional Democratic strongholds Madison and Milwaukee have offered in recent years.
The law restricting early voting to two weeks before an election, now back in place due to the appeals court ruling, would’ve impacted fewer than 16,000 voters in the state’s two largest cities in the 2018 elections, a WisPolitics.com review found.
In the state Supreme Court voting case, Justice Rebecca Bradley used her dissent to knock the high court’s order, writing the majority was disregarding its duty to the voters of Wisconsin.
In a footnote, Bradley pointed out those who filed the suit told the court a ruling would be needed by Sept. 13 — three days before ballots must be distributed — for the November election to proceed in accordance with any decision.
The majority didn’t explain its rationale for declining the request for an expedited process.
“Elections are the foundation of American government and their integrity is of such monumental importance that any threat to their validity should trigger not only our concern but our prompt action,” Bradley wrote.
Several citizens, backed by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, sued in Ozaukee County late last year seeking to force the Elections Commission to immediately deactivate the registrations of voters who may have moved but failed to respond to a mailer from the agency.
A circuit court judge agreed with WILL and found Democratic members of the commission in contempt for not immediately complying with his order. The 4th District Court of Appeals, though, overturned both the ruling and the contempt order after the state Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal directly. Following the appeals court ruling, the justices agreed to hear the case, which could impact about 129,000 registered voters who didn’t respond to the commission mailing.
Justice Daniel Kelly, who lost the April election, joined his fellow conservative Bradley in her dissent. His term on the court ends July 31, meaning liberal Justice-elect Jill Karofsky will hear the case instead. Conservatives will still have a 4-3 majority on the court even after she replaces Kelly.
The Capitol Report is written by editorial staff at WisPolitics.com, a nonpartisan, Madison-based news service that specializes in coverage of government and politics, and is distributed for publication by members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.