Federal Judge Upholds Wisconsin's Absentee Ballot Witness Requirements

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin's witness requirements for absentee voting, upholding the state law. The ruling maintains the status quo for voting procedures in the state ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

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Federal Judge Upholds Wisconsin's Absentee Ballot Witness Requirements

Federal Judge Upholds Wisconsin's Absentee Ballot Witness Requirements

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin's witness requirements for absentee voting, upholding the state law ahead of the 2024 presidential election. U.S. District Court Judge James Peterson ruled that the law, which has been in place since the 1960s, is a reasonable way for the state to deter abuses such as fraud and undue influence in absentee voting.

Why this matters: The ruling has significant implications for the integrity and accessibility of the electoral process in Wisconsin, a crucial battleground state in presidential elections. As the 2024 election approaches, the decision may influence voter turnout and the overall outcome of the election.

The lawsuit, brought by Democrats and represented by the Elias Law Group, argued that the state's requirement for awitness signatureon absentee ballot envelopes violates the federal Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act. The four Wisconsin voters who filed the suit claimed they have difficulty securing a witness signature due to health risks, age, and frequent travel overseas.

In his ruling, Judge Peterson stated, "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." He noted that the voters had not shown that either the Voting Rights Act or the Civil Rights Act prohibits a state from requiring absentee voters to prepare their ballot in front of a witness.

Wisconsin is a crucial battleground state in presidential elections, with four of the past six contests decided by less than a percentage point. The state's rules forvotingare under heightened scrutiny given its significance in determining electoral outcomes. Nine states currently require witness signatures to verify absentee ballots, while three states mandate that an absentee ballot envelope be notarized.

The ruling comes as the Wisconsin Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments in another case related to absentee ballots. That case challenges the prohibition on placing absentee ballot drop boxes outside election clerks' offices. In January, a Dane County judge ruled that election clerks can accept absentee ballots with minor errors, such as missing portions of witness addresses, but that decision has been appealed.

Judge Peterson's decision to uphold Wisconsin's absentee ballot witness requirements maintains the status quo forvoting proceduresin the state heading into the 2024 presidential election. While proponents argue the law helps ensure election integrity, critics contend it creates unnecessary barriers that could disenfranchise some voters. As legal battles over absentee voting rules continue in Wisconsin and other states, the accessibility and security of the ballot box remains a pivotal issue.