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Judges express skepticism over claims in voting cases

CHICAGO (AP) — Three federal court judges expressed deep skepticism Friday over claims that Wisconsin Republicans deliberately made it harder for minorities to vote.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on arguments in the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals over cases involving Wisconsin’s voter ID and early voting laws.

Judges Frank Easterbrook, Michael Kanne and Diane Sykes, who were all appointed by Republican presidents, showed in their questioning of attorneys that they had doubts about lower court rulings that struck down voting rules set by Gov. Scott Walker and fellow Republican lawmakers, the newspaper reported.

Easterbrook said those challenging Wisconsin’s voting laws were contending that Democrats can expand voting rules to help their party at the polls but Republicans can’t tighten them to their advantage.

“That can’t be right,” he said during oral arguments.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed one lawsuit and another was brought by liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Institute and Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund.

Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel appealed a federal judge’s ruling last year striking down restrictions on early voting and limited where it could take place. U.S. District Judge James Peterson, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, ruled that the laws discriminated against minorities.

His ruling allowed local officials to decide when and where to allow early voting. Democratic strongholds of Milwaukee and Madison conducted early voting at multiple locations, but the results in November were good for Republicans nonetheless. Donald Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to win Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Those challenging the laws want the court to strike down Republican-authored laws that ended straight-ticket voting and the use of special registration deputies to help people sign up to vote. The case also involves part of the state’s voter ID law.

The voter ID law itself was not struck down by Peterson. He ruled that the state had to restructure its system for providing voting credentials to people who can’t easily get IDs, many of whom are minorities. The small portion of voters who don’t have birth certificates or have other hurdles to getting IDs should be able to get voting credentials relatively easily, he concluded.

The appeals panel will decide how the state must accommodate those voters.

“We’re here today because the DMV has failed as our gatekeeper of democracy,” ACLU attorney Sean Young argued.

But Wisconsin Deputy Solicitor General Ryan Walsh told the judges that Wisconsin has “one of the most generous, voter-friendly systems in the nation.”

The appeals court is expected to rule in the coming weeks or months. Its decision could alter the voting rules that are in place in 2018 when Walker and Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin are up for re-election. The decision could be appealed to the full appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

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