MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican National Committee and the state Republican Party have asked a federal judge to let them officially oppose a lawsuit brought by Democrats who want to ease voting regulations for Wisconsin’s spring election because of the coronavirus.
The Republicans’ motion argues that they should be allowed to intervene in the lawsuit to protect their constituents from last-minute changes in voting laws and procedures. They argue that they would be forced to spend substantial resources informing Republican voters of the changes and combating “inevitable confusion.”
“While all political parties want what’s best for the public, the reality is that they have very different ideas of what that looks like and how best to accomplish it,” the motion said.
The lawsuit asks Conley to give people until April 3, the Friday before the election, to register online or by mail. The window for remote registration closed on March 18.
The lawsuit also asks the judge to lift requirements for new registrants to supply copies of proof-of-residency documents and for people requesting absentee ballots to include copies of their voter IDs with their applications. Finally, the lawsuit seeks to allow clerks to accept absentee ballots for at least 10 days following the election. Currently, ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and arrive in clerks’ offices by 8 p.m. that day.
Conley on Friday issued a preliminary injunction reinstating online and mail-in registration and extending the deadline to Monday. He refused to issue a preliminary injunction blocking the proof-of-residency, photo ID requirements and extending the date for receiving absentee ballots, but the case continues.
The April 7 election includes the state’s presidential primary, a state Supreme Court race between liberal challenger Jill Karofsky and conservative incumbent Justice Dan Kelly, and hundreds of local races.
A number of states have postponed their presidential primaries out of fears that in-person voting could spread the virus. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has urged people to vote by absentee ballot but resisted calls to postpone the election. He argues that many local officials’ terms end in mid-April and that a postponement could leave those offices vacant for weeks or longer.
A preliminary analysis by the Legislative Council, the Legislature’s attorneys, has found that Evers’ emergency powers don’t allow him to change election procedures because those protocols are part of state statutes. Even during a state of emergency, the governor cannot unilaterally alter state law, according to the analysis. Republican legislative leaders Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald said Wednesday that they believe the election should continue and that clerks can take precautions to protect poll workers and voters.
The city of Green Bay filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday asking a judge to cancel in-person voting, allow its clerks to send absentee ballots to all registered voters, extend the deadline for registering online or by mail to May 1, and give the city until June 2 to count ballots.
The state Republican Party and Republican legislators told U.S. District Judge William Griesbach on Thursday that they plan to seek permission to intervene in that lawsuit, too.
Also Thursday, the League of Women Voters and the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans filed their own federal lawsuit in Madison asking a judge to lift the requirement that absentee voters must have a witness sign their ballots.
The lawsuit argues that the requirement is a significant barrier to absentee voting for people who are in quarantine or who live alone. The lawsuit notes that Evers issued a stay-at-home order on Tuesday. According to the lawsuit, there are more than 675,000 single-member households in the state.