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Early voting

Liberal groups have asked a federal judge to quash new state restrictions on early voting in the first of what may be multiple court challenges to laws enacted by Republicans in a recent lame-duck session.

A motion filed Monday afternoon with Judge James D. Petersen asks him to halt enforcement of parts of a law signed Friday by Gov. Scott Walker.

The court filing charges Walker and GOP lawmakers with defying judicial directives in 2016 to halt their previous attempts to constrain early voting.

Brought by groups including Citizen Action of Wisconsin and One Wisconsin Institute, it says the recently enacted laws were meant “to ensure that it is harder for Democratic candidates to win future elections by restricting early voting.”

The restrictions signed by Walker bar municipalities from beginning early voting sooner than two weeks before an election. Large municipalities that vote heavily Democratic, such as Madison and Milwaukee, start more than 40 days before an election.

One Wisconsin Institute, an arm of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now, and Citizen Action successfully challenged a slew of state early voting restrictions in court in 2016. Now they seek to do so again.

“The Wisconsin Republican attempts to rig the rules on voting were unconstitutional in 2016 and they’re unconstitutional today,” One Wisconsin Institute’s executive director, Scot Ross, said in a statement. “We are going back to federal court to ask the judge to enforce his previous ruling and actions to force the GOP to respect our right to vote.”

The motion also asks Petersen to halt other new requirements signed into law by Walker . One says college or university IDs used to meet the state’s photo ID voting requirement must expire “no later than two years after the date of issuance.”

Another reduces, from 180 days to 60 days, the time period in which a state-issued credential can be used to vote in cases in which a voter doesn’t have a more traditional photo ID.

The court action is being supported by the National Redistricting Foundation, a nonprofit affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, headed by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

The offices of Walker and GOP legislative leaders declined to comment Monday on the motion.

The state has until Jan. 3 to respond to the motion, and plaintiffs have until Jan. 10 to reply to that.

Petersen, a judge in Wisconsin’s Western District Court, presided over the liberal groups’ initial court challenge, which resulted in restrictions on the hours, dates and locations of early voting being overturned. Petersen found the early voting restrictions to be racially discriminatory because they targeted municipalities with large minority populations, especially Milwaukee.

The lawsuit also challenged the state’s photo ID requirement to vote. Petersen ordered the state to improve its process for issuing credentials to people who were eligible to vote but could not comply with the requirement — primarily people who lack qualifying IDs as well as the documents needed to get a free ID from the state.

Holder said in a statement that the lame-duck bills, by defying judicial directives, are “another shameful mark on the legacy of Scott Walker and his allies in the Legislature.”

“Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature and their defeated governor are using their gerrymandered majorities to — once again — attempt to suppress the votes of people of color in the state,” Holder said.

The new filing comes as the 2016 court challenge to the state’s early voting and voter ID restrictions remains on appeal and unresolved. In February 2017 a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit heard arguments in the state’s appeal of Petersen’s ruling, but the appellate court still has not issued a ruling.

Monday’s news is not a surprise, as critics of the lame-duck bills have said court challenges to them would be forthcoming.

It also may not be the only legal challenge to the laws. Others may seek to overturn provisions curtailing powers of the incoming Democratic governor-elect, Tony Evers, and attorney general-elect, Josh Kaul.

Kaul, an attorney, has worked for the law firm Perkins Coie, which is representing the plaintiffs challenging the early voting and photo ID laws. Kaul filed in November to be removed as an attorney in the case.

State Journal reporter Ed Treleven contributed to this report.

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Mark Sommerhauser covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.