Republicans seek to stop ‘meritless’ Wisconsin election lawsuit

Voting booths set up and ready to receive voters inside a polling station in Christmas, Florida on November 8, 2016. After an exhausting, wild, bitter, and sometimes sordid campaign, Americans finally began voting Tuesday for a new president: either the billionaire populist Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, seeking to become the first woman to win the White House. / AFP PHOTO / Gregg Newton

MADISON — The Republican National Committee, the Wisconsin Republican Party and the GOP-controlled state Legislature are asking a federal judge to allow them to intervene in a sweeping lawsuit filed by Democratic-friendly groups seeking changes that would make it easier to vote in the November presidential election.

The groups filed motions in the lawsuit Monday in federal court in Madison. The Wisconsin Legislature also asked that the lawsuit filed last month be dismissed.

“This is another addition to the growing line of meritless lawsuits asking the federal courts to rewrite Wisconsin’s longstanding election laws,” attorneys for the Wisconsin Legislature wrote.

The state and national Republican parties argued that if successful, the lawsuit would “undercut democratically enacted laws that protect voters and candidates” shortly before a state primary in August and the November presidential election.

The Republicans argue that the Wisconsin Elections Commission, the named defendant, does not adequately represent their interests. The commission is equally comprised of Republicans and Democrats and is charged with administering the state’s elections.

The lawsuit was filed last month against the Wisconsin Elections Commission by Disability Rights Wisconsin, a Milwaukee-based advocacy group Black Leaders Organizing for Communities and three voters who said they were prevented from voting, or faced obstacles to casting ballots, in the April 7 presidential primary and spring election. Protect Democracy, a Washington, D.C.-based group, is assisting with the lawsuit.

Attorneys for those bringing the lawsuit did not immediately return messages seeking comment Tuesday.

The lawsuit seeks multiple changes ahead of the elections, arguing that they are needed in order to respond to challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Changes sought include sending absentee ballot request forms to all voters; hiring additional staff to count those ballots as they’re returned; requiring that voting machines accessible to people with disabilities be available at all in-person absentee voting locations; hiring more poll workers; and upgrading voter registration systems to handle the anticipated increased volume of online voter registration and absentee ballot requests.

The lawsuit also wants to require that absentee ballot drop boxes be installed in every community; state elections officials work with the U.S. Postal Service to ensure timely delivery, return and counting of absentee ballots; voters are notified if their absentee ballots won’t be counted in time for them to fix problems; there are more opportunities for curbside voting and; a public education campaign on voting options is launched. It also wants to allow for absentee ballots to be counted for up to a week after the election if they are postmarked by election day or don’t have a postmark.

The lawsuit also asks that any voter whose immune system is compromised, who is, therefore, a higher COVID-19 risk, be able to cast absentee ballots without having to provide a copy of a photo ID or get a witness. And the lawsuit asks for suspension of a state law requiring that poll workers come from the county where they work, making it easier to deal with vacancies.

Three previous federal lawsuits related to how Wisconsin runs elections have already been consolidated into one. There are also two election-related lawsuits in state court.

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