Early voting for November’s general election in Wisconsin could begin as soon as next month. But it can only happen if an appeals court under pressure from Gov. Scott Walker and other Republican leaders doesn’t put a hold a federal judge’s ruling that struck down a host of Wisconsin election laws, including limitations on early voting.
Among the election laws struck down by Judge James Peterson in July are limits on absentee and early voting, which the judge found unfairly benefited Republicans. Before the judge’s ruling, early voting was scheduled to begin Oct. 24 under a Republican measure.
A panel of GOP-appointed judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit recently stayed the decision of another federal judge to halt certain provisions of the state’s photo ID law from being implemented in November. Whether the same court bows to Republican wishes and rushes to issue a stay on Peterson’s ruling that lifts limits on early voting is anyone’s guess.
Municipal clerks must set early voting dates, and some are moving forward on the timetable made possible by Peterson’s ruling — but strongly opposed by Wisconsin Republicans.
By law, ballots have to be in the hands of clerks by Sept. 21, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The Madison city clerk’s office said early voting will begin Sept. 26, and Milwaukee Election Commission executive director Neil Albrecht told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he expects Milwaukee will follow a similar timeline.
“The law had been whittled down, so we’re working out the final details, but it will include multiple voting sites and weekend hours,” Albrecht said.
If Peterson’s ruling is not put on hold by Republican judicial appointees, local elections officials will have a chance to set up voting stations at college campuses and other locations, rather than requiring people to come to the clerks’ offices to cast early ballots, as Republicans wish.
Walker, like other Republican governors around the nation, has enacted a host of voter restriction laws designed to make it more difficult for traditional Democratic constituencies to have access to the polls. The laws were created by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is primarily financed by the Koch brothers.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
A federal appeals court today overturned a lower court’s ruling that halted an investigation into alleged illegal campaign coordination between Gov. Scott Walker and more than two dozen conservative groups, including the Koch brother’s Wisconsin Club for Growth.
The ruling this afternoon by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago is a defeat for Walker and corporate-right groups, who argued they have done nothing wrong and blasted the investigation is a partisan witch hunt.
The special prosecutor leading the investigation, who was hired by a bipartisan group of district attorneys and nonpartisan panel of retired judges, is a Republican who says he voted for Walker.
Wisconsin Club for Growth and its director, Eric O’Keefe, sued in February to halt the investigation, arguing that it violated their free speech rights, despite state law forbidding campaigns to coordinate election activities with third-party political action committees. Money spent by the PACs on campaigns is often referred to as “dark money,” because contributors are not required to be identified.
A federal judge in May sided with Club for Growth, but the appeals court reversed that ruling today, saying the case belongs in state courts.
The investigation remains effectively blocked, however, because of a state judge’s ruling in January.
Documents released in May show prosecutors believe Walker was at the center of a nationwide “criminal scheme” to illegally coordinate fundraising with outside conservative groups.
Court documents released in August included emails showing that Walker’s recall election campaign team told him to instruct donors to give to Wisconsin Club for Growth, which would then run ads for Walker and distribute money to other conservative groups backing him.
The emails were part of some 1,300 pages released by a federal appeals court from a secret investigation into whether Walker’s recall campaign illegally coordinated with conservative groups.
It’s not clear whether Walker followed the instructions from his team. But the documents say millions of dollars later moved from Wisconsin Club for Growth to groups backing Walker in the recall election.
The documents also showed that Gogebic Taconite gave $700,000 in dark money to Walker’s campaign. The company wants to develop a highly controversial iron-ore pit mine in the state. One of Walker’s first actions after becoming governor was to ease the permitting process for mines without first seeking input from people who live near the proposed mining site or environmental experts.
Walker claims he never knew that the company made such a large contribution on his behalf.
This is a developing story.
On July 11, a federal appeals court combined Indiana and Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage cases and put them on the fast track.
The move by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago comes a day after Wisconsin’s attorney general filed a notice of appeal of a federal judge’s ruling last month striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriages. Two weeks ago, the 7th Circuit put on hold a federal judge’s ruling in Indiana striking down that state’s marriage ban.
The lawsuit in Wisconsin was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of eight same-sex couples. The 7th Circuit previously ordered an expedited schedule in Indiana’s case.
The court ordered briefs to be filed by Aug. 4. Arguments will be scheduled by a separate court order.
There has been only one appeals court decision on marriage equality so far. A three judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld a lower court ruling finding marriage bans in Utah and other western states was unconstitutional.
The Utah attorney general announced last week that he will skip filing a case before the full appeals court and go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court with his challenge.