Federal appeals court reinstates multiple voting restrictions backed by state GOP
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Editor
CHICAGO – A federal appeals court on Monday, June 29 reinstated multiple voting restrictions backed by Wisconsin Republicans, delivering the state GOP a key legal victory as the November presidential election approaches.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, a panel of three Republican-appointed judges, issued their unanimous decision nearly three years after it had first heard the case.
The ruling limits early voting to two weeks prior to an election, among other provisions. Madison had been considering allowing a month of early voting, while Milwaukee allowed six weeks of early voting before Election Day in 2018.
The panel also ruled that emailing and faxing absentee ballots is unconstitutional, and that voters must be Wisconsin citizens for 28 days before being eligible to vote.
After taking control of the State Legislature in 2011, Republicans implemented numerous changes to the state’s voting procedures, including requiring voters show photo identification at the polls, cutting early voting from 30 days before an election to 12, allowing municipalities one early voting location each, and ending early voting on weekends.
Liberal group One Wisconsin challenged the restrictions in federal court in Madison in 2016. U.S. District Judge James Peterson argued that the restrictions could make it more difficult for African-Americans to vote.
A federal judge in Milwaukee, Lynn Adelman, ruled in a separate lawsuit that same month that voters who did not have photo ID could cast a ballot with an affidavit confirming their identity, handing the American Civil Liberties Union a victory in court.
These rulings paved the way to the expansion of early voting hours and an increase in the number of early voting locations in the Democratic strongholds of Madison and Milwaukee prior to Democrats winning every statewide office in 2018.
Legislative Republicans appealed the rulings in February 2017, leading to the 7th Circuit Court’s June 29 ruling.
Judge Frank Easterbrook rejected Peterson’s argument claiming that the restrictions were discriminatory, saying the legislators who put the restrictions in place did so because of politics, not because of race.
Easterbrook cited Rucho v. Common Cause, a 2019 Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled that federal courts cannot review cases pertaining to partisan gerrymandering.
“If Rucho had held that legislators must disregard politics when modifying the rules for voting (in Rucho, drawing district lines), then the district court’s analysis would have been stronger: making changes that have a disparate effect, but lack a valid reason, looks discriminatory,” he wrote. “But given the holding of Rucho that legislators are entitled to consider politics when changing the rules about voting—or at least that any contention to the contrary is not justiciable—the basis for inferring discrimination evaporates. This record does not support a conclusion that the legislators who voted for the contested statutes cared about race; they cared about voters’ political preferences.”
Easterbrook pointed to what he believes are provisions that make voting easier in Wisconsin, such as numerous ways to register to vote and keeping polls open for 13 hours or longer if voters are still in line after polls are scheduled to close.
“(The state) entitles employees to three hours off from work to vote. It funds specialized transportation assistance programs that seniors and people with disabilities can use to get to the polls,” he said. “These rules make voting easier than do the rules of many other states.”
State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) expressed his support for the decision.
“The ruling puts municipalities in every corner of Wisconsin closer to equal footing when it comes to early in-person voting,” he stated. “I applaud the 7th Circuit on its decision and look forward to moving on with this Fall’s elections.”
Ben Wikler, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, called the ruling “another egregious assault on voting rights in Wisconsin.”
“(President Donald J.) Trump knows his path to victory involves suppressing the vote as much as possible, and as we saw on April 7 when Republicans forced thousands of people to vote in-person during a pandemic, there is no low they aren’t willing to stoop to to grab power,” he said.
Trump, a Republican, carried Wisconsin by roughly 23,000 votes in 2016, narrowly defeating Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton. Wisconsin is a key battleground state in this year’s presidential election.
Although Republican legislators claim the reinstated restrictions aim to stifle voter fraud, there is no evidence supporting the existence of widespread voter fraud in Wisconsin.