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Lawsuit demands absentee ballot request form be sent to every voter

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A group of Wisconsin voters and a disability rights group filed a lawsuit Monday to ensure every registered voter who wants an absentee ballot gets one and for upcoming elections to be held safety during the coronavirus pandemic.

(DOWNLOAD THE LAWSUIT HERE)

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Madison by Disability Rights Wisconsin, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, and three women voters who say they were unable to vote or faced obstacles preventing them to participate in April 7 election.

The plaintiffs are asking election officials to ensure every registered voter has the opportunity and ability to vote in person or by mail in the August primary and November general election.

It seeks to require election officials to hire enough poll workers, send absentee ballot request forms to every voter and set up drop boxes for mail-in ballots to make sure they are counted on time.

It also asks to allow voters who are immune-compromised or at high risk for the virus to request an absentee ballot without a photo-ID and skip the witness signature.

Jill Swenson of Appleton, a plaintiff listed on the lawsuit, said her ballot didn't count in April because it didn't include a witness signature.

Swensen turned her ballot in without one after a judge originally order absentee ballots could be returned without a witness signature. This ruling was later overturned 24 hours later requiring signatures for ballots to be counted.

"The waiver for the witness signature had been rescinded therefore I was disenfranchised in this important election," said Swensen. "This last election was neither fair nor safe and I have the right to vote without risking my life," she told 27 News.

The legal challenge comes after Wisconsin was in the national spotlight after an anticipated poll worker shortage caused long ling for voters in Milwaukee and Green Bay and after several local election clerks across the state expressed grave concern about moving forward with in-person voting on April 7.

A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Election Commission who named as a defendant in the federal lawsuit denied a request for comment.

It's still unclear whether Republicans will intervene in the case, which they have done in similar challenges. Chairwoman for the Republican National Committee Ronna McDaniel said called these changes to the election process "destroying the integrity” of our elections.

"The Republican Party will not stand idly by while Democrats try to suit their way into victory in November," said McDaniel of numours lawsuits across the nation aiming to move future elections to all mail.

McDaniel said on a media call with reporters she doesn't mind proposals to send absentee ballot applications to every registered voter but does oppose not having courts decide. Instead, she believes that authority should be kept in the hands of state lawmakers and the governor to make election changes.

"We don't want to see an overreached by the courts or what's already be done legislatively in a state so leave it to the lawmakers to work with the governor or secretary of state to keep this at the state level," she said.

The lawsuit is getting national help from a group called Protect Democracy, a Washington D.C. group comprised of former aides to President Barack Obama.

“Wisconsin’s April 7 election was a disaster for the voters of the state and for our democracy,” said Rachel Goodman, counsel for Protect Democracy.

“Tens of thousands of voters were disenfranchised, and tens of thousands more were forced to risk their health in order to vote. We owe it to all Wisconsin voters to make sure the system doesn’t fail them again.”

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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