DNC, Wisconsin Dems sue to expand voting access amid coronavirus outbreak

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The Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin filed a lawsuit on Wednesday in the hopes of expanding voter access amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The move by Democrats comes just weeks before the state is scheduled to hold its presidential primary and as concerns about voting mount during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“These steps are critical to ensuring that all Wisconsinites who wish to participate in the April 7 elections are able to do so,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement.

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Perez added: “Given the necessary measures taken by [Wisconsin] Governor Evers and public health officials in Wisconsin to limit the spread of the virus, it’s more important than ever that we expand access to voting, and increasing these necessary measures will help protect both public health and Wisconsinites' right to participate in our democracy.”

The lawsuit aims to force election official in Wisconsin to extend the electronic and by-mail registration to April 3, suspend the requirement that copies of photo identification accompany absentee ballot requests and copies of proof of residency documents accompany voter registration requests.

The court filing also wants the state to extend its current deadline requiring absentee mail-in ballots to be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day to being postmarked by Election Day and received by municipal clerks’ offices within 10 days of the election.

“Nobody should have to choose between exposure to COVID-19 and disenfranchisement,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Ben Wikler said. “The court should immediately strike down the barriers to full participation in voting by mail. Our democracy depends on our ability to conduct free, safe, and fair elections, no matter what—even during a pandemic.”

Wisconsin – a key battleground state in this year’s presidential election – has been the focus of a number of lawsuits surrounding its voting process.

President Trump won the state by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016, becoming the first Republican to win Wisconsin since 1984, after Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton infamously failed to campaign in the state. Democrats are trying to remedy their loss this election season by holding the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee this summer and aggressively targeting voters in the Badger State.

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Earlier this month, a conservative law firm asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to quickly overturn an appeals court ruling that stopped the purging of more than 200,000 people from the state's voter rolls, a move that Democrats argued was intended to make it more difficult for their voters to cast ballots.

Moments after the filing, a conservative justice on the Supreme Court who previously sat out the case because he's on the ballot on April 7 said he would “rethink” that decision after the election. The court deadlocked 3-3 without Justice Dan Kelly's participation when asked to take the case earlier, so he could be a deciding vote.

Wisconsin's presidential primary is April 7, but the appeal does not ask for the court to act in time for that election. A state appeals court last month overturned an Ozaukee County judge's ruling ordering the purge and dismissed the case, setting up this appeal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.