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7th Circuit Clears the Way for Greater Voter Participation and Safety in Wisconsin

Voter Registration and Absentee Receipt Deadlines Extended, and Barriers for In-State Poll-Workers Removed, Pending an Appeal at the Supreme Court

MADISON, WIToday a coalition consisting of Disability Rights Wisconsin, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC), and three registered Wisconsin voters won a momentous victory in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The appellate court allowed a legal victory secured last week to go forward. In that earlier ruling, a federal court ordered the Wisconsin Elections Commission to ensure that voters have safe and equitable access to cast ballots during the November general election. In refusing to extend the stay on the district court’s decision, the Seventh Circuit paved the way for changes that will make voting easier and safer, including extending the deadlines for online and mail voter registration and the ballot receipt deadlines and allowing Wisconsinites from anywhere in the state to fill looming poll worker shortages. The Seventh Circuit’s decision can be found here. Plaintiffs are represented by attorneys from Protect Democracy, the MacArthur Justice Center, Stafford Rosenbaum LLC, and O’Melveny & Myers, LLP. 

“All Wisconsin voters—regardless of their party or where they live—benefit from election procedures designed to be safe and effective during the ongoing challenges of voting during a pandemic,” said Farbod Faraji, counsel at Protect Democracy. “Today’s decision paves the way from a safer, more inclusive election in November”

This decision significantly advances democracy and voting rights in Wisconsin, a state just months removed from an April election plagued by numerous election failures. During that election, a shortage of poll workers—especially in cities where most Black and brown Wisconsin voters live—led to last-minute closures of a staggering number of polling places. Today’s decision equips municipalities with critical flexibility to address the shortage in poll workers by allowing Wisconsinites from around the state to volunteer to fill any vacancies.

“No Wisconsin voter should experience what Milwaukeeans were put through in the April election”, said Angela Lang, Executive Director of BLOC, a plaintiff in the case. “Allowing Wisconsinites from other counties to fill polling vacancies will help keep more polling sites open and ensure that all voters can participate in the democratic process.” 

Since the Defendants may seek to prevent the decision from going into effect by asking the United States Supreme Court for an emergency stay, voters should not rely on these changes until the conclusion of the appeals process. We continue to encourage Wisconsin voters to register by mail on or before October 14, 2020, and all voters to do so by absentee ballot as soon as possible.

“The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy. Every voter should be able to vote safely and have their vote counted, whether casting a ballot in person or through the absentee process,” said Yaira Dubin, counsel at O’Melveny & Myers. “The Seventh Circuit’s decision today brings us closer to that goal.”