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Judge dismisses lawsuit over absentee ballot signature requirements

Suit from Democratic law firm argued requirements are burdensome, violate Voting Rights Act

Poll workers sort out early and absentee ballots at the Kenosha Municipal building.
Poll workers sort out early and absentee ballots at the Kenosha Municipal building on Election Day in Kenosha, Wis., on Nov. 3, 2020. Wong Maye-E/AP Photo

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit from a Democratic law firm that sought to challenge Wisconsin’s rules requiring a witness to certify absentee ballots.

Under Wisconsin law, absentee voters need to complete their ballots in the presence of an adult witness. That witness, who generally needs to be a U.S. citizen, must complete a certificate with the witness’ signature and address.

The Elias Law Group sued the Wisconsin Elections Commission last year on behalf of four voters in the state.

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The lawsuit described issues, including health problems and overseas travel, that made it difficult for the voters to find a U.S. citizen to attest to their absentee ballots. The suit filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin argued the witness requirements are burdensome, and violate the federal Voting Rights Act, as well as as the federal Civil Rights Act.

But, in a ruling Thursday, U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson rejected those arguments.

“It may be debatable whether the witness requirement is needed, but it is
one reasonable way for the state to try to deter abuses such as fraud and undue influence in a setting where election officials cannot monitor the preparation of a ballot,” Peterson wrote. “Both of plaintiffs’ novel claims represent attempts to apply federal voting rights law beyond its proper scope.”

The now-dismissed lawsuit is only one front in an ongoing legal battle about when absentee ballots should be counted in Wisconsin.

On Monday, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in a separate case brought by Democrats seeking to overturn a ban on absentee ballot drop boxes.

The challenge comes ahead of November’s election, which includes a U.S. Senate race and a rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.