Democrats filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday to extend absentee voting deadlines and suspend certain voter-registration rules for Wisconsin’s April 7 primary, in light of widespread disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The federal complaint brought in Madison by the Democratic National Committee and Wisconsin Democratic Party names the six commissioners of the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission as defendants in their official capacity.
The Democrats’ 16-page complaint requests changes to the procedures and deadlines for absentee voting and voter registrations in light of the exponential spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus strain, which has documented cases in every U.S. state and has ravaged Asia and Europe with over 200,000 confirmed cases globally and nearly 9,000 deaths.
Wisconsin announced Wednesday afternoon that it has surpassed 100 confirmed cases, with no deaths announced yet.
“In this unprecedented situation,” the lawsuit states, “multiple provisions of law that establish requirements for registering to vote and absentee voting are now posing direct and severe obstacles to voting.”
The Democrats, represented by Bruce Spiva with the Washington, D.C., branch of international firm Perkins Coie, argue that forced confinement and social distancing implemented to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus will prevent people from voting, regardless of whether they are able or willing to leave their homes.
The lawsuit notes that Wisconsinites are already indicating an inability or unwillingness to vote in person given unprecedented levels of absentee ballot requests, with over 173,000 absentee applications having been received as of Tuesday.
In order to combat unparalleled disruptions caused by the global pandemic, the Democrats asked Wisconsin’s elections commission to extend the deadline for electronic and by-mail registration from Wednesday to April 3 and the deadline for receiving by-mail absentee ballots from 8 p.m. on Election Day to within 10 days after the election, provided the ballots are postmarked by Election Day.
The suit also requested the commission suspend the requirement that a copy of a voter’s photo identification be included with absentee ballot requests and copies of proof of residency documents be included with registration requests for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak.
A press release from Democrats argued that “by implementing these measures, the state can ensure that Wisconsinites’ right to vote is not infringed upon during this extraordinary and unprecedented time.”