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Politics & Government

Wisconsin Election Lawsuits Will Face A Difficult Time In Court, Says Law Professor

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Lauren Sigfusson
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Poll workers helping facilitate early voting on April 3.

Voters and advocacy organizations have been crying foul over voter access in Wisconsin's spring election and presidential primary and questioning the decision to go forward with in-person voting during a pandemic.

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Many people who requested absentee ballots never received them. And many of those who voted in-person had to wait in long lines at crowded polling places, because there weren't enough workers to staff the usual sites.

The decisions regarding whether and how to hold the election were legal ones, approved by the state’s and the country’s highest courts.  

Could the problems at the polls contribute to post-election lawsuits? Ryan Owens, a professor of law and political science at UW-Madison, says any legal challenge is going to face a number of hurdles. 

"I'm not convinced that the courts are going to get involved with it simply because, it's difficult here, you're trying to prove that something otherwise would have happened. And that's difficult to show, you know, sort of a double negative," says Owens. 

The first hurdle is proving that voting was significantly down from previous elections, which won't be clear until after April 13 when results are tallied. If there is lower turnout, Owens says lawyers would also have to prove the reason for the dropoff in voting. 

"It's not altogether clear, what the cause was, you know, was it a result of state election law? Was it a result of city management?"

Even if both points are proven, it is unclear what remedy a court could offer. 

"Are you able at some point to order a new election? That seems like a fairly extreme thing for a court to do at this point," says Owen. "It's very difficult to see what the courts would do to intervene in this."

And Owens points out that it is the job of the legisalture to govern. 

"Our elected officials that are the ones who are supposed to be doing this sort of thing," says Owens. "And we have a substantial amount of time between now and the November election, that, you know, with any luck, our elected leaders can come together and say, 'look, we've got to do something to to prepare ourselves for this.'"

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