Wisconsin: Protecting Voters and Democracy During the Pandemic


On May 18, 2020, a coalition of Wisconsin voters and organizations sued state election officials for violating federal laws that protect the right to vote. The Wisconsin Elections Commission’s failure to properly manage the April 7 election, held amid the expanding COVID-19 pandemic, violated federal statutes and the U.S. Constitution, which protects every eligible voter’s right to vote. The suit was filed on behalf of three registered Wisconsin voters, as well as Disability Rights Wisconsin, which advocates for human and legal rights on behalf of disabled Wisconsin residents, and Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC), a group that engages members of the Milwaukee Black community in voting and the political process.

On September 21, 2020, a federal district court granted significant relief in our case, ordering state officials to, among other things, extend the deadline for receipt of absentee ballots for six days, until November 9 for all mailed ballots postmarked on or before November 3; extend the deadline for online and mail-in registration by one week, to October 21; allow election officials to email ballots to voters who request them but don’t receive them in the mail; and allow Wisconsinites to serve as poll workers outside of their counties of residence, to help with the threat of poll worker shortages.

While the Seventh Circuit initially ruled in our favor on standing grounds, on October 8 it reversed course after the Wisconsin Supreme Court permitted the Wisconsin Legislature to represent the state and appeal the district court’s ruling. After the Seventh Circuit stayed the district court’s relief, we filed an emergency application to vacate the stay with the U.S. Supreme Court. On October 19, an appeal in the case was made to the U.S. Supreme Court to lift the stay issued by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

On October 26, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court denied an emergency application to vacate the Seventh Circuit stay. In response to the ruling, Protect Democracy’s Farbod Faraji said the following: “The decision simply fails to grapple with the undeniable impact of COVID-19 on the ability of Wisconsin citizens to exercise their right to vote. It is truly unfortunate that the Court will not implement even the most common-sense voter protection measures in the midst of a global pandemic.”

In light of this ruling, it is essential that all voters who are voting absentee to return their ballots to a dropbox or by mail as soon as possible so that their municipal clerk RECEIVES the absentee ballot no later than 8:00 pm CT on November 3rd (Election Day).  

Plaintiffs are represented by attorneys from Protect Democracy, the MacArthur Justice Center, Stafford Rosenbaum LLC, and O’Melveny & Myers, LLP.

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Case Documents


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