Federal Court Rejects Lawsuit Against Wisconsin's Absentee Ballot Witness Requirement

A lawsuit alleging that Wisconsin's requirement of witnesses signing absentee ballots violates federal law was rejected by a federal court.

Its opponents claimed that the Wisconsin requirement was unlawful because it unjustly prohibited forcing absentee voters to provide proof of eligibility under the Voting Rights Act. A portion of the act says, "No citizen shall be denied the right to vote in any federal, state, or local election conducted in any state or political subdivision of a state, because of his failure to comply with any test or device." A necessity to "prove his qualifications by the voucher of registered voters or members of any other class" is one of the definitions of "test or device."

But according to Judge Peterson's May 9 judgment, that reading of the federal statute is incorrect.

He said, "Plaintiffs contend that Wisconsin law requires the witness to certify the voter's eligibility to vote in addition to making sure the voter prepared their ballot according to the correct procedure." However, such view conflicts with both the statute's wording and intent as well as with previous interpretations of the legislation since it was passed. The plaintiffs themselves do not indicate in their affidavits that they think they must locate a witness to attest to their eligibility to vote.

Judge James Peterson of the U.S. District Court says the plaintiffs' claims—four voters represented by the Democratic company Elias Law Group—are based on incorrect legal interpretations.

A qualified voter in Wisconsin may cast an absentee ballot if they are "unable or unwilling" to cast their ballot in person. A second adult must see the voter complete the ballot and sign a declaration stating, in part, "the above statements are true and the voting procedure was executed as there stated," according to the legislation, which is one of the prerequisites for voting by mail.

Because the "above statements" include the voter's affirmation that they are a Wisconsin resident and have the right to vote in the state, the plaintiffs claimed the requirement violates federal law.

The witnesses, according to government authorities, only attest to the second portion of the declarations, which states that the voter certifies that he or she gave the witness the enclosed ballot and that the voter marked the ballot and put it in the envelope on their own without help.

"The Voting Rights Act would not have been broken if the defendants are right. As previous courts have determined, a witness cannot attest to a voter's eligibility by just signing off on what they saw, according to Judge Peterson, a former Obama appointee.

Although the term "the above statements" is vague, he claimed that the plaintiffs' interpretation "simply does not make any sense."

If they were right, "every witness would have to determine the voter's age, residence, citizenship, criminal history, whether the voter is unable or unwilling to vote in person, whether the voter has cast a ballot at another location or plans to do so, whether the voter is capable of understanding the purpose of the voting process, and if so, whether a court has determined that the voter is competent," he stated. "If plaintiffs’ interpretation were accurate, it would mean that countless absentee ballots over decades were invalid because the witness certified that the voter was eligible to vote and met the other requirements in the first voter certification, even though the witness had no basis for such a certification," he added later.

The Court observed that the challengers did not provide any proof that witnesses faced consequences for failing to verify a voter's eligibility, and that there is no reference of witnesses taking any action to verify voter eligibility in the Wisconsin Elections Commission's guidelines.

Additionally, according to the lawsuit, the witness requirement is unconstitutional under the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits "denying[ing] the right of any individual to vote in any election because of an error or omission on any record or paper relating to any application, registration, or other act requisite to voting, if such error or omission is not material in determining whether such individual is qualified under state law to vote in such election."

Requests for comments were not answered by the legal team or the defendant, the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

The government's amicus brief in the case was filed by the group Restoring Integrity and Trust in Elections, which applauded the decision.

"People who vote by mail must make sure they are following the law, and Wisconsin has put in place a witness signature requirement that helps ensure they do just that," said Derek Lyons, the group's president, in a statement. This case is just another example of the blatant and despicable attempts by leftist activists to use significant civil rights laws to further their political goals.


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