A federal judge is set to weigh whether a host of changes that Republican legislators have made to Wisconsin’s voting laws illegally burden minority and Democratic-leaning voters. Liberal group One Wisconsin Institute, Inc., social justice group Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund and 10 voters filed the lawsuit last June. U.S. District Judge James Peterson has scheduled a bench trial to begin Monday in Madison. There will be no jury, just the judge’s final decision that he’ll likely issue weeks down the line. In the crosshairs are multiple changes that Republicans have made since 2011, including parts of Wisconsin’s voter photo identification mandate; shrinking the state’s early voting window from 30 days before an election to 12; eliminating weekend early voting; prohibiting someone from vouching for a person’s residence if he or she lacks proof of residency during registration; limiting early voting to one location per municipality and eliminating election registration deputies at high schools.
The plaintiffs’ original filing argued the requirement violates federal law prohibiting voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race, but Peterson dismissed that portion of the action in December, noting that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the mandate in 2014. He has allowed the plaintiffs to challenge smaller pieces of the law, such as prohibitions on technical college IDs, out-of-state IDs and certain expired identification cards. Since December, the plaintiffs have added new allegations that the process for obtaining free state IDs from the state Department of Transportation is too onerous and time-consuming.