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Category: Wisconsin (page 1 of 3)

Political Process Breakdown: What Happens When the Political Branches Cannot Agree on a Map?

By: Kayla Burris

What happens when the governor and state legislature disagree on how to draw a state’s legislative districts? Should the courts get involved? And how soon should they get involved—at the beginning of the process, or closer to the primaries?

State and federal courts in Wisconsin are grappling with these questions. Two tandem tracks of cases are proceeding—one in the Wisconsin Supreme Court and one consolidated case in the District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

To set the scene, Wisconsin is one of the most politically divided states in the country with a Republican legislature and a Democratic governor—both of which are required to agree on a legislative map according to Wisconsin law. Thus far in the redistricting cycle, the two sides seem unlikely to come to an agreement on the new legislative map. The Democratic governor has said that “it’s unlikely he would sign into law any maps drawn by the Republican-controlled [l]egislature that are based on the current boundary lines that have solidified GOP majorities for decades.” The governor instead favors using a nonpartisan commission to draw the maps. The Republican-controlled legislature on the other hand argues for retaining the current maps to the extent possible under the law.

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A Bumpy Road to Voting in Wisconsin: Absentee Ballot Issues

By: Brianna Mashel

This election cycle has been turned on its head by safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to recent reporting by the Pew Research Center, about four-in-ten registered voters (39%) say they plan to cast their vote by absentee or mail-in ballot this year (or already have done so), compared with 33% who say they plan to vote in person on November 3, and 21% who have voted in person or plan to vote in person at an early voting location before Election Day. In fact, even before the onset of the pandemic, voters casting mail-in ballots increased nearly threefold between 1996 and 2016 – from 7.8% to nearly 21% – and the Census Bureau’s voter supplement data found seven-in-ten adults favor allowing any voter to vote by mail. Nonetheless, there is significant variation from one state to another on the handling of absentee and mail-in voting.  A case in point is Wisconsin, which has opted to rely on its existing absentee voting system even though it is currently one of the nation’s hot spots for COVID-19, with hospitals treating a record high number of patients with the disease.

In Wisconsin, absentee voting is relatively easy. Any registered voter is eligible to request an absentee ballot and voters do not need a reason or excuse to vote absentee. A ballot request and a copy of an acceptable photo ID with the applicant’s request must be received by the clerk no later than 5:00 p.m. on the Thursday before Election Day. The completed absentee ballot must be delivered no later than 8:00 p.m. on Election Day. This year, as many as two-thirds of all ballots, or roughly 2 million, are projected to be cast absentee. Although this process seems simple, Wisconsin voters have already experienced bumps in the road – literally.

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All Eyes on Absentee Voting: Wisconsin Races to Distribute Ballots After Green Light from Supreme Court

By: Mikaela Phillips  

The April 2020 presidential primary in Wisconsin drew national attention during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Even the United States Supreme Court weighed in, blocking the extension of absentee voting beyond the statutory deadline that requires ballots to be received by 8 p.m. on election day.

In April 2020, the state saw a surge in voting by mail. Absentee ballots accounted for roughly 6% of the votes tallied in the 2016 and 2018 general elections in Wisconsin. In stark contrast, over 60% of the total votes counted in the April primary were cast via absentee ballots. However, that figure does not paint the whole picture of rise in vote by-mail efforts. The state rejected over 23,000 mail-in ballots during the primary, most often due to witnesses’ failure to complete one line of the certification form.  Continue reading

All GAB, No Action

By: George Nwanze

There is an old Latin saying “quis custodiet ipsos custodes” or “who will watch the watchers.” This saying has been invoked countless times over the centuries to suggest that to those who great power is conferred, it must be tempered with oversight. In the state of Wisconsin, however, it is not readily apparent who is behind the wheel of the state’s election process. Starting in 2008, Wisconsin sought to venture in a bold new direction in campaign finance law with its creation of a nonpartisan board, the Government Accountability Board (GAB), that would be tasked with regulation of campaign finance in the state. The GAB had its impetus in the 2001 campaign scandal in which staffers in the state legislature impermissibly used state funds to engage in partisan campaigning. In response to this scandal—in which both sides were accused of misappropriation of public funds–the first act of the 2007 legislative session called for the creation of a state agency, a combination of the state’s ethics and election boards, that would be charged with election supervision.

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Why Go to Wisconsin?

By: George Nwanze

While Gil v. Whitford, the Wisconsin gerrymandering case presently before the Supreme Court, may be absorbing all the legal intrigue, one previously litigated issue involving Wisconsin’s elections has gone unnoticed. Particularly, the state’s voter identification laws and the suppressive effects it has had on voter turnout.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, perhaps the most common retort of the electoral upset was, “Wisconsin should have gone to Hillary Clinton.” Wisconsin was typically viewed as a reliable Democratic state in presidential elections, as the last time Wisconsin went for a Republican for president was in 1984. However, this assertion was more of a visceral reaction to what many view as a poor political decision, rather than something that the data actual bears out. Fortunately, a recently released study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM), sheds some light on whether it actually mattered if “she went to Wisconsin.”

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Wis-communication: Trouble in the Badger State

Despite a July 2016 ruling from a federal District Court invalidating many provisions of Wisconsin’s controversial package of voter ID laws, problems persist for many voters seeking to register to vote, or to procure an ID that will allow them to vote. Reports that certain Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices, which have the authority to issue valid voter IDs, have not fully complied with the federal court’s order continue to crop up.

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De-Clawing a Badger: Western District of Wisconsin Softens State Voter ID Law

In a sweeping opinion handed down in late July, United States District Judge James Peterson struck a substantial number of voting provisions from the books in Wisconsin. The opinion, which spans 119 pages, found that multiple voter restrictions enacted by the state legislature were motivated by a desire to advantage incumbent and aspiring Republican officials. The court first rejected the plaintiffs’ facial challenge, relying on a 7th Circuit decision which held that even if some voters have trouble complying with the law, and those voters tend to be racial minorities, the law is not necessarily facially unconstitutional. This initial victory in preserving the overall voter ID law marks the extent of the defendants’ success in the case.

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Crafting Competitive Criteria: The Institution is Critical

By: Benjamin Williams

With the rapid increase in political polarization in recent years, momentum is building in several states to dramatically alter the redistricting process after the 2020 Census. True to the idea of the states being laboratories of democracy, there have been state constitutional amendments in Florida, partisan gerrymandering challenges in Wisconsin, Maryland, and North Carolina, redistricting criteria bills in Virginia, as well as a myriad of racial gerrymandering challenges. But the new idea—based on a blend of Iowa-style and Florida-style redistricting—is to create stringent criteria for legislatures to follow. That idea is simple enough: if the redistricting body (legislature, independent redistricting commission, college students, etc.) is forced to follow strict criteria when redistricting, the result will be “better” districts that aren’t ugly and are more competitive. But does the data actually bear this out?

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Wisconsin: After Frank v. Walker

Wisconsin: after Frank v. Walker, a new case — One Wisconsin Institute v. Nichol — was filed on May 29th, 2015 to challenge Wisconsin’s election laws again.

By: Lisa Zhang

In a recent complaint filed by One Wisconsin Institute, Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund, and six Wisconsin residents, plaintiffs challenged several Wisconsin voting provisions, including 2011 Wisconsin Act 23. I previously discussed the Equal Protection challenges made in this case in an earlier post. Below is an analysis of the case’s challenge under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).

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Wisconsin: One Wisconsin Institute v. Nichol

By: Lisa Zhang

One Wisconsin institute, Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund, and six Wisconsin residents filed a complaint against a series of provisions that Wisconsin has made since 2011 to its voting and election laws.

Interestingly, Wisconsin’s election laws just withstood a challenge that had lasted for four years. On March 23, 2015, the Supreme Court denied the petition for certiorari of Frank v. Walker. In Frank, plaintiffs challenged 2011 Wisconsin Act 23, which specifies limited acceptable forms of photo IDs, under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the district court found it in violation of both the 14th Amendment and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The 7th Circuit reversed the judgement on the ground that Wisconsin’s Voter ID law does not differ in ways that matter under the analysis in Crawford v. Marion.

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