A federal appeals court panel refused on Monday to delay a lower court ruling that outlawed a sheaf of restrictions on voting in Wisconsin, enacted by the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature. The decision, by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, was seen as a significant victory for voting rights advocates. The ruling makes it likely that November’s state and federal balloting will follow earlier rules that allowed expanded early and weekend voting, among other changes. Judge James D. Peterson of Federal District Court had struck down parts of Wisconsin’s 2011 voter ID law and other election laws in July, ruling that the Legislature had crafted them to suppress voting by minorities and other traditionally Democratic constituencies.
Saying it sought to reduce fraudulent voting, the Legislature had cut the period for early voting to 12 days, from as many as 30, and had reduced the number of early polling places to one per municipality. While the changes had less effect in small towns, they sharply reduced the opportunity to cast ballots in black and Latino neighborhoods in Milwaukee, where early voting is especially popular.
Judge Peterson’s ruling also struck down other legislative restrictions, including on ID and proof-of-residence requirements for college student voters, on the residency requirement for new voters and on distributing absentee ballots by fax or email. The Legislature’s “preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud,” he wrote, concealed an effort to reduce Democratic votes.