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Voting advocates file lawsuit challenging restrictions (UPDATE)

By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A liberal group and a voting rights organization have filed a federal lawsuit challenging a host of changes Republicans have made to Wisconsin’s election laws, alleging the provisions burden black people, Latinos and Democratic-leaning voters.

One Wisconsin Institute Inc., and Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund along with a half-dozen voters filed the lawsuit Friday in Madison against the Government Accountability Board, which oversees state elections.

The lawsuit says a number of provisions that have become law since Republicans took control of the Legislature in 2011 violate the federal Voting Rights Act, the First Amendment and the equal protection clause.

The groups are challenging the state’s photo identification requirement; a reduction in the early voting window from 30 days to 12 days; an increase in the minimum in-state residency period to vote from 10 days to 28 days; the elimination of faxing and emailing absentee ballots to voters who aren’t overseas or in the military; and the elimination of weekend and evening early voting times, among other provisions.

Both the state Supreme Court and a federal appellate court found the voter ID law constitutional last year, but the lawsuit argues that the requirement hurts blacks and Latinos more severely than whites because they’re more likely to lack IDs that can be used for voting. Young, poor and Democratic voters also are less likely to possess valid ID, the lawsuit added, and nothing suggests widespread election fraud that Republicans used as a justification for the law exists.

Early voting limitations, meanwhile, create long lines on Election Day in Wisconsin’s largest cities, where black and Latino populations are concentrated and Democratic-leaning voters tend to reside, according to the lawsuit. The longer residency requirements hurt blacks and Latinos because they tend to have less stable housing arrangements and move more frequently, the lawsuit said. Faxing and emailing ballots makes election administration easier, not harder, the lawsuit added.

A GAB spokesman referred questions Monday to the state Justice Department. DOJ spokeswoman Anne Schwartz would say only that the agency is reviewing the lawsuit. Online court records did not show any activity scheduled in the case as of Monday.

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