It didn’t take long for a federal judge to block the controversial cuts to early voting and other election law changes passed by Wisconsin legislative Republicans after the election.
U.S. District Judge James Peterson simply referred back to 2016, when he issued a court order blocking a Wisconsin law that restricted early voting to two weeks before an election. State attorneys have asked the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the 2016 decision, but the appellate court has not ruled yet.
Republicans tried to push through the same restrictions two years later, and the judge would have none of it.
In his order, Peterson wrote that arguments about the dissimilarity between the newly passed law and the limits on in-person absentee voting that Peterson barred were not persuasive. “If the court accepted defendants’ argument, it would mean that a legislative body could evade an injunction simply by re-enacting an identical law and giving it a new number,” he wrote.
Peterson also blocked provisions in the recent lame-duck laws that would prohibit voters from using expired student IDs and temporary IDs older than 60 days as identification at the polls. He said those restrictions too closely mirror statues he struck down in 2016.
The suit was filed three days after former Gov. Scott Walker signed the legislation. Filing were 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 rebuke to their defeated former governor and his cronies in the state legislature,” Holder said. “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.”
House Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, did not respond to a request for comment. In an interview with a WISC-TV reporter Thursday, Vos said of the ruling, “surprise, surprise” that a “liberal judge from Dane County” would strike down the law.
Of course these voting restrictions weren’t the first choice of legislative Republicans after Democrat Tony Evers won the governor’s race and Democrats swept all of the statewide elections while Republicans maintained their large legislative majority thanks in part to heavily gerrymandered seats.
Republicans first wanted to add a third primary election next year, effectively breaking off the presidential contest from a statewide judicial race to keep turnout down in the statewide race. An outcry from county elections officials across Wisconsin concerned with the cost and practicality of this, along with national attention, led to the GOP leaders backing off that proposal.
Other legislation pushed through in the weeks after Evers’ election still faces court challenges. But the first ruling, on voting restrictions, was welcomed by the governor and should be welcomed by residents.
“We have to make sure folks have the opportunity to participate in our democracy,” Evers said in a statement. “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.”