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If approved, GOP voting legislation would face a wave of lawsuits in Wisconsin

By Patrick Marley | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 8, 2021

MADISON - The state could face a raft of legal challenges if Republican lawmakers succeed in enacting restrictions on how voting is conducted in Wisconsin.

“There are numerous constitutional and federal law violations (in the legislation), some of which are just low-hanging fruit. They’d be easy cases to win,” said Jon Sherman, litigation director for the Fair Elections Center in Washington, D.C.

Republican Sen. Duey Stroebel of Saukville disputed that, saying the bills he recently unveiled could withstand legal challenges.

"I’d be hard-pressed to find a more litigious area of the statutes than election law," Stroebel said in a statement.

"At the end of the day, Republican election integrity bills, including photo ID, are almost always upheld by appeals courts because we do our job. We will consult with impartial attorneys through the legislative process and make adjustments if needed, but not because opponents of the policy make accusations."

Republicans who control the Legislature have made changes to voting laws a top priority after Joe Biden narrowly defeated Donald Trump in Wisconsin's presidential election.

It’s unclear what measures will get approved, and those that do are sure to be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. But if Republicans win the governor’s race in 2022, they may gain a free hand to make the changes they want.

Not all Republicans are entirely on board with Stroebel's legislation.

“Some of them have good ideas. Some of them have problems,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester said at a news conference last month.

Vos didn’t specify what he saw as problems. But, like Stroebel, Vos said he supported narrowing the law that allows people to vote absentee without showing an ID if they are indefinitely confined because of age or disability.

Courts over the last decade upheld the bulk of the ID law after an onslaught of lawsuits. That litigation has mostly petered out but could be revived if the latest proposals were put into effect.

"This is an area I think we would expect to see draw more litigation if this bill actually takes effect," said Mel Barnes, staff counsel at Law Forward, a liberal nonprofit law firm in Madison that focuses on voting issues.

One of Stroebel's bills would require indefinitely confined voters to provide a copy of their ID when they vote absentee, just as most other voters must.

"This is a sea change to the Wisconsin voter ID law. I think it opens it up again to constitutional attack," Sherman said, saying it would harm disabled voters and those who have trouble getting IDs. "This would open a whole Pandora’s box of potential problems for these classes of voters who struggle to provide a photocopy of their ID."

Sherman and the Fair Elections Center represented the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin in litigation last year to try to make it easier to vote during the coronavirus pandemic. He said if Stroebel’s proposals become law he would look for clients so he could bring a new lawsuit.


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