Wisconsin Supreme Court Lifts New Restrictions on Early Voting Sites Ahead of 2024 Elections

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s liberal majority yesterday froze part of a lower court’s decision that stood to significantly limit the number of early voting locations municipalities may designate for the state’s 2024 elections. 

The now-paused portion of the lower court’s ruling — issued in January 2024 — held that the city of Racine’s geographical distribution of early voting sites during the 2022 primary election unlawfully afforded an advantage to Democratic voters. 

Although the decision applied specifically to Racine, the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) expressed concerns that the ruling would likely have statewide effects — potentially putting “many thousands of voters in larger municipalities [at] risk [of] having their access to voting unconstitutionally limited.”

The ruling at issue stemmed from a right-wing lawsuit that prevailed in restricting early voting sites based on purported “partisan advantage” and precluded the future use of a mobile van for in-person absentee voting utilized by Racine in 2022. 

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty — a conservative legal group that has previously challenged election rules in the Badger State — is behind the case. 

Following the trial court’s judgment from earlier this year, multiple parties involved in the suit — including Wisconsin election officials, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) — asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to review the case, which it agreed to do in a May 3 order. 

According to WEC, which sought a stay from the state Supreme Court pending its resolution of the case, the trial court’s ruling creates “uncertainty” surrounding the permissibility of early absentee voting sites throughout the entire state. The decision, the commission asserted, could lead “some municipalities [to] unnecessarily limit the number and location of absentee voting sites, thereby impinging voters’ ability to effectively cast a ballot.” 

While the court yesterday agreed to pause the lower court’s ruling pertaining to the distribution of absentee voting sites, it declined to reinstate the use of Racine’s absentee voting van for the 2024 elections. In Tuesday’s order — from which the court’s three conservative justices dissented — the majority maintained that “the movants have shown that they are likely to succeed on the merits of the appeal” concerning early voting locations. 

The four-justice majority accepted WEC’s argument that leaving the lower court’s ruling in place could dramatically curtail the availability of early voting sites and effectively re-establish the state’s previous one-location limit on early voting places that a federal court struck down in 2016. 

“Granting a stay will…simply ensure that the status quo since 2016 continues to govern through the next election,” the order reads. 

The justices concluded that just months before the state’s August primary and November general election, the “public interest weighs heavily in favor of staying the circuit court’s ruling” so as to not “disrupt ongoing preparations for those elections by creating uncertainty about which sites may be designated as alternate absentee balloting locations.”

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is expected to hear oral argument on the merits of the case sometime this fall, after which it will ultimately decide on the matter for future election cycles.  

Today, June 12, is the deadline for Wisconsin municipalities to assign early absentee voting sites prior to the state’s Aug. 13 primary election, for which early voting begins on July 30. 

Read the order here.

Learn more about the case here.