Judge to Rule on State Election Results Within Next Few Days

A federal judge expressed skepticism in the Trump campaign's arguments during a hearing Thursday, indicating that a high bar would need to be met for him to overturn the state's election results.

By Will Kenneally

December 10, 2020

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Vote Here sign

"Vote Here" sign at a polling place in Fitchburg Nov. 3, 2020.

A federal judge indicated that a high bar would likely need to be met for him to overturn the state’s election results, as he heard arguments Thursday on a suit challenging the November election. He said a decision on the case could still be days away.

Lawyers for the Trump campaign wanted the federal court to declare the election results void and have the state Legislature decide Wisconsin’s electoral college delegation instead.

Judge Brett Ludwig said he would provide a decision “as promptly as I can,” acknowledging that the decision would likely be appealed to the 7th Circuit Court in Chicago ahead of next Monday—when the electoral college meets to cast votes for president.

“It’s not lost on me that this is a political case, obviously,” Ludwig said. “If that relief were granted, this would be a most remarkable proceeding and the most probably the most remarkable ruling in the history of this court or the federal judiciary.”

During oral arguments Thursday, he questioned lawyers for the Trump campaign on whether their arguments were the purview of federal court, or whether they should be heard in state court—given that many of the issues are a matter of state law.

“If it’s a significant departure, maybe I have the opportunity to weigh in,” Ludwig said. “But if it’s not, these issues I think—and whether the ballots should be counted—that’s all something for the parties to work out in state court.”

The Trump campaign’s lawyers alleged many of the claims of impropriety heard during the recount: the election was improperly run due to policy around ballot drop boxes and missing information on absentee ballot envelopes, as well as abuse of the indefinitely confined voter status.

Lawyers for the defendants, which include the state’s elections commission, governor and other elected officials, argued the campaign was frivolously attempting to overturn the election after the fact.

“Here, the relief sought is retrospective. It fundamentally seeks to undo the election already held and the certification already entered based on violations that allegedly occurred before,” said Jeffery Mandell, an attorney representing the governor as a defendant.

Poll workers in park

Poll workers collect absentee ballots Saturday, Sept. 26, during an event held by the City of Madison clerk’s office. Photo by Zac Shultz.

Lawyers for the president’s campaign said that some of the changes, like Madison’s “Democracy in the Park” events, happened so close to the election the campaign did not have time to file legal challenges.

“The evidence before the court is, for instance, that the drop boxes in matter in the city of Madison came into play in the middle of October,” said attorney William Bock. “So this is a massive late breaking change in how the election was administered.”

Lawyers for the defendants argued however, that many of the policies the plaintiffs objected to, like the dropboxes, have been established practice in Wisconsin for years.

“I would also point to a letter by counsel for the Wisconsin Legislature who called dropboxes lawful and commended their use,” said Assistant Attorney General Colin Roth, who represented the Wisconsin Elections Commission as a defendant.

“It’s quite difficult for me to understand how the state Legislature can call these dropboxes lawful, but then somehow invalidate all votes deposited in them.”

Senior political reporter Zac Schultz breaks down the multiple court cases affecting the state’s election results during a Dec. 4, 2020 segment on Here & Now.

This comes two days after the Texas attorney general filed suit before the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to throw out the election results from Wisconsin as well as Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Gov. Tony Evers called the suit “frivolous” during a Thursday media briefing.

“Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States, people understand that. But right from the get go, our president has said that if he loses, it’s because it’s rigged,” Evers said. “I think he has done immense damage to the elections system of the United States of America, including ours here in Wisconsin.”

Attorney General Josh Kaul also fired back against the suit, saying “Texas is asking this [U.S. Supreme] Court to overturn the will of the people of Wisconsin.”

“If this Court agrees to do so, it will not only irreparably harm its own legitimacy, but will lend fuel to a disinformation campaign aimed at undermining the legitimacy of our democracy,” Kaul said.

The Wisconsin election results face an additional challenge in state court, where the Trump campaign filed suit after the results of the state’s partial recount were made final. The case will be heard by Racine County Reserve Judge Stephen Simanek at 9 a.m. Friday.

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