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US Democratic committee seeks intervention in conservative lawsuit challenging ballot drop boxes in Wisconsin
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US Democratic committee seeks intervention in conservative lawsuit challenging ballot drop boxes in Wisconsin

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A Democratic political committee is seeking to intervene in a Waukesha County lawsuit filed by a nonprofit conservative law firm against the use of absentee ballot drop boxes in Wisconsin — which the committee refers to as an attempt at voter suppression that would restrict voters’ access to such ballot drop boxes.

The motion to intervene, filed Tuesday, is part of the committee’s “Defend The Vote” program, which is a new multimillion-dollar effort to “fight back against GOP voter suppression efforts in the U.S. Senate campaigns across the country,” according to a statement.

“The DSCC will use every tool at our disposal to fight back against Republicans’ tactics to restrict voting and protect Wisconsinites’ right to participate in our democracy,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chair Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., said in a statement. “Wisconsin is a critical Senate battleground, and we are committed to ensuring that voters who want to continue using drop boxes to securely and easily cast their ballot can do so.”

The motion is in response to a lawsuit filed in late June by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty on behalf of Richard Teigen, of Hartland, and Richard Thom, of Menomonee Falls, which challenges the Wisconsin Elections Commission’s guidance to election clerks last year on the use of ballot drop boxes leading up to the 2020 election.

Rick Esenberg, WILL president and general counsel, last month said the elections commission’s advice to election clerks was “contrary to the law, putting the ballots of countless voters at risk.”

In the lawsuit, WILL challenges the state elections commission’s interpretation that ballot drop boxes can be unstaffed, temporary or permanent. WILL has asked the court for a declaratory judgment that state law only allows absentee ballots to be cast via the mail or by delivering it in person to a municipal clerk.

In the intervention motion, the Democratic campaign committee says there is no evidence that the use of drop boxes facilitated voter fraud and that the boxes helped ensure countless lawful voters were able to participate in the election.

“Plaintiffs seek to bar the use of this important form of access to the ballot box despite the absence of any evidence that voters misused drop boxes in 2020 or that the availability of them resulted in any voting fraud,” according to the motion. “The Wisconsin Elections Commission has repeatedly endorsed the use of appropriately regulated secure drop boxes in guidance to local election officials.”

The motion goes on to note that WEC’s drop box guidance follows best practices based on advice from the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

Absentee ballot boxes and community ballot collecting initiatives were widely used during the November election as a way to provide more return options for the significantly higher number of voters choosing to vote absentee during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their use had been cleared by the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which oversees elections administered by thousands of Wisconsin cities and towns.

The lawsuit has been widely panned by Democratic lawmakers, with Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, describing it last month as “blatantly anti-voter.”

The use of absentee ballot drop boxes was heavily scrutinized both before and after the November election, and the practice was cited in unsuccessful lawsuits filed with state and federal courts by former President Donald Trump and others challenging President Joe Biden’s win in the state.

Those cases were ultimately unsuccessful in overturning Trump’s election loss. WILL alleges the Wisconsin Supreme Court did not weigh in on the legal status of absentee ballot drop boxes.

What’s more, the Wisconsin Supreme Court last month tossed out an election lawsuit brought by conservative businessman Jere Fabick, a prominent Republican donor and president of Fabick Cat, the Caterpillar equipment and engine dealer.

In a 4-3 decision, the court relied upon procedural reasons not to hear the case over concerns from a minority of conservative justices that the state’s highest court is avoiding taking on important cases.

Year in review: The top Madison-area stories of 2020

It started out well enough. The Badgers were making a late-in-coming run at the Final Four. Hometown insurance behemoth American Family announced it was boosting its starting minimum wage to $20 an hour. Madison East Siders welcomed a new Pinney branch library.

The first two and a half months of the year feel like a different era, when news of a strange new virus infecting people in China was safely tucked away in the back pages of the newspaper and the heart-breaking images of a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of a 46-year-old Black man had yet to go viral.

Then came March and successive waves of closures, cancellations, lockdowns, furloughs, layoffs, infections and deaths. If the subsequent uprisings over the killing of George Floyd weren't enough to remind America that it has plenty of work to do to overcome racism, the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha tragically emphasized the point. And a divisive presidential election carried the tone of the year at the end.

While it may not be a year to look back on with particular fondness, 2020 no doubt is one to remember. Here's a look back at some of the top stories in the Madison area as they occurred.

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It marked the fourth consecutive loss in the Rose Bowl for UW, and the first time since 2013 that the program lost its final two games of the year.

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Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said Sunday the victim who officers found in an apartment at 1905 McKenna Blvd. shortly after 2:30 p.m. Saturday was a 20-year-old African American male.

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With the Green Bay defense failing to lay a hand on 49ers running back Raheem Mostert for much of the first half and the Aaron Rodgers-led offense committing two turnovers and failing to convert a third down yet again during a scoreless first 30 minutes, the Packers dug themselves a 27-0 halftime deficit on their way to a demoralizing 37-20 loss.

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Gutierrez, superintendent of the school district in Seguin, Texas, was announced Friday as the Madison School Board's pick to lead the district.

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The person returned to Dane County Regional Airport after a trip to Beijing Jan. 30 and went directly to UW Hospital's emergency room, officials said.

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This weekend's performances at the Alliant Energy Center will be the last with elephants in Dane County as a contract between the circus and the venue expires. 

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Tony Evers said he vetoed the legislation, which uses surplus revenue, because it doesn't invest in the state's schools. 

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Despite no Wisconsin cheeses finishing in the final top three, state producers dominated the competition, earning 45 gold medals out of 132 categories.

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This decision is unprecedented for Wisconsin's largest university and taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus.

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The closure order, to take effect no later than 5 p.m. on March 18, affects nearly 1 million Wisconsin children in grades K-12 in public and private schools.

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One was a man in his 50s from Fond du Lac County; the other was a man in his 90s from Ozaukee County.

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David A. Kahl, 53, is charged with first-degree intentional homicide.

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Tony Evers’ “safer at home” order represents a shift from the governor's position last week, when he said he did not plan on issuing such an order.

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Most voting locations saw few lines and smooth operations. But other places, notably Milwaukee, experienced significant delays, chaos and conditions that made it impossible for some voters to cast a ballot.

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Jill Karofsky's win over Dan Kelly cuts the court's conservative majority to 4-3, giving liberals a chance to take back control in 2023.

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The U.S. Air Force announced the final selection of the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing, capping more than three years of study and deep community division over the planes, which come with the promise of jobs and new construction but also noise and pollution.

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While applauded as a good first step, Democratic members, as well as public safety and health officials, have criticized the bill for not allocating more state funding to respond to the pandemic.

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For 30 years, "Ms. Milele" was the publisher of UMOJA magazine and a prominent leader in Madison's black community. She was "short in stature but mighty in force." 

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Free community testing for COVID-19 started at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison on Monday morning.

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Gov. Tony Evers and legislative Republicans will need to work quickly to come up with a replacement plan.

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The Vilas Zoo, Goodman Pool, beaches and movie theaters are among the places not opening yet.

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There were signs early Sunday that the violence was spreading into other parts of the city.

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"It’s clear they have important process issues to work out," the candidate said.

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School Board President Gloria Reyes said the decision to pull police from Madison's four main high schools is effective immediately. 

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The Madison School Board chose Carlton Jenkins, a superintendent of a suburban Twin Cities school district, over another finalist for the job. He starts Aug. 4.

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As a Dane County public health order requiring face coverings in all indoor spaces outside the home took effect Monday, businesses offered mixed views on mandates, though for many retailers it was business as (the new) usual.

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There was no update on the second victim from the shooting at Schroeder Road and Chapel Hill Road Saturday night. 

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Travis M. Christianson, 44, is tentatively charged with first-degree intentional homicide.

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Republican President Donald Trump also has caused controversy for saying he might deliver acceptance speech at White House.

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The girl was in a car that was struck by gunfire late Tuesday morning on East Washington Avenue.

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The conference decided — after meetings between presidents and athletic directors, and outcry from players, coaches, politicians and fans — to cancel the fall sports season and will attempt to move football to the spring semester.

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"The video that came out of Kenosha is absolutely horrific. I don’t understand how people can watch it and not be here," one Madison protester said. 

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The fifth-seeded Heat finished off an upset of the NBA’s best regular-season team Tuesday, topping the Milwaukee Bucks 103-94 in Game 5 of their East semifinal series — while Giannis Antetokounmpo, the league’s reigning MVP, couldn’t play because of a sprained right ankle.

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UW-Madison is pausing in-person instruction for at least two weeks and quarantining more than 2,200 students living in two dorms.

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Police are not recommending charges against Althea Bernstein, saying there is a difference between someone trying to deceive law enforcement and not being able to corroborate a report of a crime.

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The alternate care facility at State Fair Park in West Allis may begin taking patients Thursday.

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A small crowd Downtown Saturday morning before the race was called turned into hundreds of people honking horns, cheering and waving signs after Biden was declared the winner, while some Trump supporters turned out in protest.

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"We understand the eyes of the world will be on these Wisconsin counties over the next few weeks,"  Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe said.

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St. Mary's and Meriter expect to get vaccine soon.

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The flurry of activity caps off a tumultuous post-election saga in Wisconsin that has now concluded.

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A look back at the year 2020 through the lens of Wisconsin State Journal photographers John Hart, Amber Arnold and Steve Apps

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