Voters sue Legislature, leaders and WEC demanding April 7 revote

    WEC staffers Michelle Hawley and Sara Linski train poll workers in Brookfield, Wis. in 2018
    WEC staffers Michelle Hawley and Sara Linski train poll workers in Brookfield, Wis. in 2018 (Photo: Wisconsin Elections Commission)

    The first of what could be a plethora of lawsuits over the April 7 in-person election was filed Monday, charging that Republican legislative leaders “chose politics over the interests of all Wisconsin citizens in an intentional and self-serving attempt to disenfranchise thousands of voters” when they refused to allow voting to be rescheduled in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The federal lawsuit, which seeks class action status, cites the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and alleges violations of the federal Voting Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, the lawsuit states, “understood the dangers of COVID-19 before the Spring Election and cavalierly (and for clearly political reasons) refused to take action to postpone the election, which decision runs counter to every credible public health pronouncement about COVID-19 in the United States and the decisions of at least 18 other states and territories which followed the direction of doctors, scientists, epidemiologists, virologists, infectious disease specialists, and public health experts by making alternative arrangements for their spring elections.”

    The lawsuit also names the Wisconsin Election Commission, its six members and its nonpartisan administrator as defendants, but reserves most of its criticism for lawmakers.

    The lawsuit was filed in the name of 14 plaintiffs who either were unable to vote on April 7 out of concern for their health or the health of loved ones, or did vote, triggering fear of exposure to COVID-19. The suit says that their “right to vote was not merely impaired or burdened. It was utterly destroyed,” and that by refusing to postpone the election, the Legislature and its leaders “completely deprived Plaintiffs of their most fundamental right.”

    The lawsuit seeks a revote that would include mail-in voting for all voters who didn’t vote on April 7, including those who sought to vote absentee and never got a ballot, and those who submitted absentee ballots that were invalidated by rulings at the federal appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court on the eve of the election.

    It also demands court-ordered “fair procedures to remedy the past wrongs associated with the Spring Election and to ensure [the plaintiffs’] rights are not abridged in future elections in 2020 while the pandemic runs its course,” including the special election for the 7th Congressional district May 12; the Aug. 11 primary for the fall election; and the Nov. 3 general election.

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.