Lawsuit filed by 14 Milwaukee area residents, where the number of polling sites dropped from 180 to five.
Fourteen Milwaukee-area residents filed a federal lawsuit Monday seeking a partial or full re-do of last week’s election in Wisconsin conducted amid a coronavirus pandemic, and a Democratic Wisconsin Elections Commission member and the state Democratic Party chairman said they predict more legal actions opposing the vote are likely.
In a letter dated Sunday to Wisconsin media outlets in which he criticized Republicans for making the April 7 election a “train wreck,” Wisconsin Elections Commission member Mark Thomsen said discrepancies about absentee ballots could result in additional lawsuits from across the state filed by those whose votes may not be counted. Vote results were released late Monday.
Voters were initially told their ballots would count if absentee ballots were received by election clerks by April 13. But that decision was overturned by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling just hours before Tuesday’s election, resulting in ballots having to be postmarked by April 7 and received by clerks to count.
Residents from across Wisconsin have reported having sought absentee ballots but not received them in time to have them counted in the election. Some said they still have not received their ballots.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission voted 3-3 along party lines on Friday to maintain the April 7 postmark requirement for ballots to be counted, meaning those received April 8 that had to have been in the mail the previous day will not be counted, Thomsen said.
That action “may require voters to now file individual lawsuits in the event a municipal or county clerk does not count their absentee ballot without a postmark …” he wrote.
Ben Wikler, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said the absentee ballots issue and those who did not receive them in time being forced to either risk their health by voting or staying home and giving up that right is likely to result in further legal action. Thousands of people waited in lines in Milwaukee and Green Bay, where the number of voting sites were greatly reduced.
“It is hard to imagine a world where none of the candidates end up looking for legal recourse,” said Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. “Republican decisions not only endangered Wisconsinites but also sparked a legal cloud.”
Thomsen said he sought an emergency meeting of the WEC to reconsider its vote regarding postmarks. Its failure to do so means “it will be for the voters, candidates and the courts to make sure that as many registered voters disenfranchised” by the April 6 court decision, ultimately have their votes counted, he wrote.
Republican members of the WEC defended the April 7 postmark decision, saying voters had plenty of time to request absentee ballots prior to the election.
The lawsuit is the first filed by residents who said they lost their right to vote because of last-minute decisions related to the coronavirus pandemic. The 14 people who filed the lawsuit said they represent many across Wisconsin who did not receive their absentee ballots in time. It was filed against Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, the Assembly, the Senate and the WEC.
Some residents said they had sought ballots as long ago as mid-March but still had not received them. Others said they received them on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, past the April 7 election deadline for them to be counted in election results.
Unreturned ballots have been discovered in at least two mail processing sites. In the Village of Fox Point, an election official said hundreds of absentee ballots were repeatedly returned to village offices, meaning voters did not receive them by Tuesday’s election. And a postal worker discovered three tubs of undelivered absentee ballots that were supposed to have been sent to Appleton and Oshkosh voters.
People in other locations across Wisconsin told UpNorthNews they also failed to receive absentee ballots. Eddie Roberson, a 50-year-old truck driver from Milwaukee, said he received his ballot, but his wife and daughter’s boyfriend did not get theirs. They did not end up going to vote in person due to health concerns.
“This is really destroying the trust in the African American community,” Roberson said. “It really is. As African Americans, we’re already suspect of the system, and the system just keeps letting us down. I don’t know what else we can do.”
On Friday WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe said her agency is investigating the missing ballots. She is working with the U.S. Postal Service, she said, but so far has received little in the way of answers regarding delayed and missing ballots.
Gov. Tony Evers had requested every state voter be sent an absentee ballot, but the Republican-controlled state Legislature denied that action. Evers then proposed postponing the election until June 9, but that measure was struck down by the conservative state Supreme Court the day before the election.
The governor had supported keeping the April 7 election date, but as the date drew closer he received warnings from public health officials that doing so would spread COVID-19, and he changed course.
On Monday Wikler and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez called on state Republicans and the Trump administration to implement a vote-by-mail policy for the May 12 special election for Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District race.