The Wisconsin Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee on Wednesday sued Wisconsin elections officials, demanding that the deadline for online voter registration and vote by mail applications be extended beyond midnight on Wednesday.
The lawsuit came as states around the country are scrambling to safely hold primary elections during the coronavirus outbreak. Five states so far have postponed their primaries, and Wyoming has canceled its in-person caucuses, opting to conduct its presidential nominating contest wholly by mail.
But the Wisconsin primary, scheduled for April 7, includes numerous state, local and municipal elections that would be more difficult to reschedule than just a presidential primary, because some involve a transfer of executive power. There is also an election for a State Supreme Court justice.
Wisconsin’s elections are governed by the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission, which operates separately from the governor.
The lawsuit calls for a new deadline of April 3 for electronic and by-mail registration.
The suit is also seeking to drop a requirement that voters provide photo identification when requesting absentee ballots, and to allow any absentee or vote by mail ballot postmarked by April 7 to be valid for the election.
Calls for vote by mail have increased among Democrats. Late Tuesday, Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, called on all remaining states on the primary calendar to explore different methods of voting to help decrease any health risk to voters during the coronavirus outbreak.
“The D.N.C. is urging the remaining primary states to use a variety of other critical mechanisms that will make voting easier and safer for voters and election officials alike,” Mr. Perez said in a statement. “The simplest tool is vote by mail, which is already in use in a number of states and should be made available to all registered voters.”
Expansive vote by mail and early voting helped lift turnout in Arizona’s and Florida’s primaries on Tuesday above 2016 levels, buoyed in large part by the availability of early voting and a push from local authorities to encourage voters to cast ballots early.
In Wisconsin, the state Democratic Party said it had shifted its entire organizing apparatus to a digital campaign during the coronavirus outbreak. Part of that includes a huge digital canvassing effort through emails, text messages and social media posts to persuade voters to register online and request a vote by mail or absentee ballot.
“Nobody should have to choose between exposure to COVID-19 and disenfranchisement,” Ben Wikler, the chair of the state Democratic Party, said in a statement. “The court should immediately strike down the barriers to full participation in voting by mail. Our democracy depends on our ability to conduct free, safe, and fair elections, no matter what — even during a pandemic.”