State of Wisconsin

Wisconsin Absentee Ballot Witness Requirement Challenge (Federal Court)

Liebert v. Wisconsin Elections Commission

Lawsuit filed on behalf of four individual voters challenging a Wisconsin law that requires absentee voters to complete their ballots in the presence of a witness who is a U.S. citizen and can attest to the voter’s eligibility. The witness must complete a written certificate — which contains a witness signature and address — attesting to the absentee voter’s qualifications. The plaintiffs highlight how Wisconsin’s absentee ballot witness requirement puts voters at “risk of disenfranchisement because of technical and immaterial witness-related errors.” In particular, the plaintiffs point to a Wisconsin statute providing that “when a certificate is missing the address of a witness, the ballot may not be counted.” The statute however, fails to define the terms “address” or “missing.” The complaint asserts that “different Wisconsin municipalities…adopt different and inconsistent standards for absentee ballot witness addresses,” resulting in absentee voters facing “an ongoing threat that they will be disenfranchised because of shifting local interpretations of the Witness Requirement.” 

The plaintiffs allege that the absentee ballot witness requirement violates Section 201 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which prohibits denying the right to vote on the basis of a citizen’s failure to comply with a “test or device,” including the “requirement that a person as a prerequisite for voting…prove his qualifications by the voucher of registered voters or members of any other class.” According to the lawsuit, the witness requirement constitutes an unlawful “test or device” under Section 201 “and because a voter’s failure to satisfy it results in the voter being denied the right to vote, Wisconsin’s Witness Requirement violates Section 201 of the Voting Rights Act.” The plaintiffs assert that alternatively, the witness requirement violates the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act, which protects against disenfranchisement on the basis of trivial errors that are unrelated to a voter’s eligibility. The plaintiffs ask the court to strike down the requirement for violating the VRA, or in the alternative, the Civil Rights Act. 

On Jan. 17, 2024, the court dismissed the Wisconsin Elections Commission as a defendant but allowed claims against the other defendants to proceed. On May 9, the court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

RESULT: On May 9, 2024, the district court upheld the witness requirement.

Case Documents

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