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Federal Court In Wisconsin Upholds Voting Restrictions Favored By Republicans

Just months ahead of the November election, a federal appeals court in Wisconsin has reaffirmed voting restrictions favored by Republicans in a state that's one of the keys in the presidential race.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit found in favor of restrictions on early voting and restored a requirement that residents must live in a district for 28 days — instead of 10 days — to be eligible to vote there. They also declared emailing or faxing of absentee ballots unconstitutional.

Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote the opinion for the court, rejecting the argument made by U.S. District Judge James Peterson in 2016 that the provisions amounted to discrimination against African American voters who might find it more difficult to cast a ballot with the restrictions in place.

Easterbrook — who along with the other two appellate judges on the panel is a Republican appointee — cited what he described as a number of provisions in Wisconsin that made voting easier.

Wisconsin, he wrote, "keeps the polls open for thirteen hours, and longer if voters are waiting in line at closing time. It entitles employees to three hours off from work to vote. It funds specialized transportation assistance programs that seniors and people with disabilities can use to get to the polls." He also cited voter registration in person, by mail or online.

"These rules make voting easier than do the rules of many other states," Easterbrook said.

"These facts matter when assessing challenges to a handful of rules that make voting harder," he said.

The state's requirement that voters show a photo ID at the polling place was not in question in Monday's ruling and remains intact. Even so, the panel did find that expired student IDs were an acceptable form of voter ID.

Republicans say the changes are aimed at preventing voter fraud and at streamlining rules across the state. Meanwhile, Democrats called the decision to uphold them an assault on democracy.

"[President] Trump knows his path to victory involves suppressing the vote as much as possible, and as we saw on April 7 when Republicans forced thousands of people to vote in-person during a pandemic, there is no low they aren't willing to stoop to grab power," state Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler said after the ruling.

The federal district court ruling in 2016 declared laws extending the residency requirement for voting to 28 days and restricting early voting to weekends at only one location in each municipality to be unconstitutional.

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.