Wisconsin Republicans Oppose Voting Changes Sought Due to Virus Outbreak

March 20, 2020 by Dan McCue
A voter makes her choice during the Democratic Presidential primary voting Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The leaders of Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature told a federal judge Thursday they are opposed to a request by Democrats to amend absentee and online primary rules in light of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

The state Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday afternoon calling for an extension of the deadline for online and by-mail voter registration; lifting requirements that voters include photo identification when applying for absentee ballots; and allowing clerks to receive absentee ballots for up to 10 days following the election.

The deadline for online and by-mail voter registration expired Wednesday; presently, absentee ballots can only be accepted until 8 p.m. on election night.

But in a letter delivered to U.S. District Judge William Conley on Thursday, Micha Tseytlin, attorney for the GOP lawmakers, said the legislature opposes changing voting rules and procedures in the midst of an ongoing election.

Tseytlin also asked the judge to take no action on the case until the attorney can prepare a formal brief laying out the legislature’s arguments.

Wisconsin’s spring election is currently scheduled for April 7. The ballot includes the presidential primary, a state Supreme Court race and races for local offices.

Prior to the delivery of Tseytlin’s letter, the Republican leaders asked members of the  Legislature’s Joint Committee on Organization to vote on a measure that would give lawmakers blanket authority to intervene in cases challenging the state’s election laws.

Laws that Republicans passed in December of 2018, after former Gov. Scott Walker lost re-election but before Democratic Gov. Tony Evers took office, gave the Legislature broader authority to intervene in some cases, especially those challenging state law.

But the Republicans have previously said they do not trust Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, to always adequately defend state law.

When they intervene, Republicans are able to hire private attorneys to represent the Legislature instead of deferring to Kaul — even though his office would continue to defend the state alongside the Legislature’s lawyers in any dispute.

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