Wisconsin elections could lead to nationwide party battlesSubmitted: 04/07/2020
Wisconsin elections could lead to nationwide party battles
Story By Nicholas Riccardi, Associated Press

- Wisconsin's chaotic primary may just be the beginning. Both major parties are preparing for a months-long, state-by-state legal fight over how citizens can safely cast their ballots should the coronavirus outbreak persist through November's election.

The outcome of the court battles - expected to litigate mail-in voting rules, voter identification requirements and safe access to polls - may have a significant impact on how many people turn out to vote in hundreds of elections across the country between now and November, including the race for the White House. It will likely play out in key presidential battlegrounds amid an already roiling debate over voting rights and protecting access to the ballot.

"We have already seen more litigation, even before COVID, than ever before in 2020," said Marc Elias, a prominent attorney who represents the Democratic Party on voting issues. "What COVID has done is added fuel to that fire."

Elias said he expects to file lawsuits within the coming weeks against states that Democrats argue haven't taken adequate steps to protect voters and poll workers during the outbreak. The party is specifically pushing steps to make it simpler to request and return mail-in ballots.

Republicans are ready to fight back. President Donald Trump has already tried to portray voting by mail as suspicious and warned that it could lead to so many people voting that "you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again." The Republican National Committee will spend some of the $10 million it set aside for presidential-year election-related litigation to fight back against Democratic lawsuits over the virus.

Tuesday's presidential primary in Wisconsin was a preview of confusion the court fights can cause. After Democratic Gov. Tony Evers tried to delay the election at the last minute, a court initially postponed and tweaked the rules for the contest, only to have the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday night reinstate many of the original rules and the election.

The election went on as planned - although Milwaukee opened just five of its 180 in-person polling places after hundred of poll workers declined to show up. Voters cast ballots while wearing protective masks and stood in long lines, trying to keep a safe distance so as not to spread or catch the virus that has killed 92 people in the state.

Only five states send ballots to all voters to be returned through the mail. Roughly one-third of states require a formal excuse to procure an absentee ballot that can be sent in remotely, including the swing state of New Hampshire, which has yet to designate the pandemic as a legitimate reason to get a mail ballot. Other states crucial to the presidential contest, like Wisconsin and North Carolina, require a witness to sign an application for a mail ballot - a requirement that can be difficult to meet for voters in quarantine.

In Texas, the state Democratic Party has already filed a lawsuit seeking to allow the pandemic to qualify as a legitimate excuse for any voter seeking an absentee ballot. The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, helped New Mexico Republicans try to stop that state's Supreme Court from allowing a request by county clerks to transform their June primary into an all-mail event.

The party argues that such changes are premature and, in some cases, unworkable.

"Imposing a new system onto states unnecessarily will result in significant problems in the November election, and it is critical we work to preserve the integrity of the democratic process," said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Mandi Merritt.

The Trump campaign has likewise laid down markers on what sort of changes it expects state Republicans to fight. Vote-by-mail options can "play a role during a pandemic by enabling at-risk voters to vote safely," legal counsel Justin Clark said in a statement.

But, Clark added, "states should resist proposals that open the door to voting fraud such as mailing ballots to voters who haven't asked for one." Notably, some Republican secretaries of state, such as in Iowa and Ohio, have already moved to send mail ballots out widely.

The brewing legal fight comes as Democrats' efforts to mandate no-excuse mail-in voting have fizzled in Congress.

Senate Republicans prevented measures from making it into the stimulus bill passed last month. Democratic leaders on Tuesday said the Wisconsin primary strengthened their resolve to try again in the next bill, but voting rights groups are pessimistic that will succeed.

Instead, advocates are trying to secure more funding for local elections offices. They got $400 million in the last stimulus but estimate at least $1.6 billion more would be needed to enable the states to prepare for a radically changed voting landscape in November.

"Making sure that our elections can be conducted fully and fairly is a very high priority for us," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters Tuesday.

Still, voting rights advocates believe more litigation is inevitable as parties look closely at vote-by-mail procedures. Elias said Democrats are pushing for some standards, including a postage-paid return envelope, counting ballots postmarked by Election Day, allowing voters to resolve issues arising from questions about a signature and allowing groups to drop off and collect mail ballots from voters.

Democrats argue the latter provision, dubbed "ballot harvesting," is essential for elderly voters and others isolated by the pandemic. But it's another red line for the Trump campaign.

"States should also limit the ballot harvesters who are incentivized by the Democrats to violate social distancing rules," Clark said.

Rick Hasen, an election law professor at the University of California-Irvine, said he expects "a lot of litigation, especially in states that offer excuse absentee balloting." But, he added, fighting over elections was already going to be intense before the outbreak.

Hasen tracks election litigation and said it soared to a high record in 2018 - an unusual mark for a nonpresidential year. "Part of it is hyperpolarization," Hasen said. "Part of it is that we have a lot of close elections, and people realize that, in really close elections, rules matter."

Text Size: + Increase | Decrease -
| Print Story | Email Story
Sponsored in part by HodagSports.com


BLACK RIVER FALLS - The death of an inmate in the Jackson County Jail is under investigation.

+ Read More

MINNEAPOLIS - The white Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee into George Floyd's neck as he begged for air was arrested Friday and charged with murder, as authorities imposed overnight curfews to try to stem violent protests over police killings of African Americans that have spread from Minneapolis to cities across the country.

Protesters smashed windows at CNN headquarters in Atlanta, torched a police car and struck officers with bottles. Large demonstrations in New York, Houston, Washington, D.C., and other cities ranged from people peacefully blocking roads to clashing with police.

+ Read More

News of the arrest came moments after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz acknowledged the "abject failure" of the response to the protests and called for swift justice for officers involved. Walz said the state would take over the response to the violence and that it's time to show respect and dignity to those who are suffering.

The former Minneapolis police officer shown on video putting his knee on the neck of George Floyd has been arrested, according to Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington.

Derek Chauvin, who was fired on Monday along with three other officers involved in the detainment of Floyd, was taken into custody Friday.

Video showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for at least eight minutes on Monday night. The police department initially said Floyd "physically resisted" the officers and that he died after "suffering medical distress."

+ Read More

MADISON - In a press release Friday, Gov. Tony Evers released the following statement on the death of George Floyd:

+ Read More

Play Video

FOREST CO. - Over the last three weeks, Forest Co. went from having zero confirmed COVID-19 cases to now 28.

Health officials state all but one is tied to an outbreak at The Bay at Nu Roc Health and Rehabilitation Center, in Laona.

However, Forest Co. residents connected to employees at Nu Roc say the virus was present a few weeks prior to the county's first case.

Resident Jennifer Connor discovered after speaking to community members that two weeks prior to the county announcing their first confirmed case another employee at NuRoc tested positive in April

Witnesses at NuRoc, who wish to remain anonymous, did confirm that the administration brushed off that employee's COVID like symptoms as another illness and allowed her to continue working in the building until April 24.

That following week the employee tested positive for the coronavirus.

CDC guidelines state "if a healthcare worker develops symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, difficulty breathing), advise them to stay home from work."

Nurses and other staff stated that the employee's significant other tested posted for the virus prior and after speaking with administration they were asked to not share that information with their colleagues.

One stated "Corporate told us that the employer has the coronavirus, but not to say anything to anyone as we need to keep this real quiet. We were told by corporate not to worry."

Following CDC guidelines includes healthcare workers to report when they come in contact to a high or medium-risk exposure. Additionally they ask to exclude them from working for 14 days after the last exposure.

Knowing that information, Connor began to call multiple state agencies to warn of the potential outbreak at Nu Roc.

All nursing homes are required to report data weekly to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and CDC through NHSN according to the CMS and CDC reporting requirements.

After speaking with almost ten state agencies, Connor added in an email to Newswatch 12 that they had no knowledge of the spread and even admitted they had inaccurate data.

+ Read More

MADISON - Wisconsin health officials have recorded nearly 20 more COVID-19-related deaths since Thursday.

The state Department of Health Services says the number of deaths in the state as of Friday afternoon stood at 568, up 18 from the same time on Thursday.

The total number of cases stood at 17,707, an increase of 733 from Thursday. Nearly 2,500 people have been hospitalized.

+ Read More

MADISON, WI - The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is proud to host the 8th annual Wisconsin Free Fun Weekend. Park admission fees, fishing license and trail pass requirements will be waived on June 6-7 to encourage Wisconsinites to take advantage of and enjoy Wisconsin's outdoors.

During Free Fun Weekend June 6-7:

- No state park admission stickers or trail passes are required.
- People may fish without a fishing license or trout/salmon stamps. All other fishing regulations apply.
- ATV, UTVs, and OHMs are exempt from registration requirements. Resident and non-resident all-terrain vehicle operators do not need a trail pass to ride state ATV trails.
- Capacity limits remain in effect at some properties to limit overcrowding.
- Visitors are asked to recreate responsibly close to home and practice social distancing.

Before heading to a state park, trail or waterbody near you, here are some additional things to know:


- Residents and non-residents will not be required to have a fishing license or trout/salmon stamps.
- All 2020-2021 fishing regulations apply including bag and length limits.
- Due to the public health risk, loaner equipment will not be available. Anglers should bring their own equipment and bait.
- Only anglers living in the same household (i.e. family members or roommates) should fish within six feet of one another.
- Events such as fishing clinics are canceled.
- Anglers are encouraged to have a backup plan in the event there is crowding or unsafe conditions where they plan to fish. We encourage everyone to fish safely and responsibly.
- Locate launches and shorefishing access points near you.

+ Read More
+ More General News