September 30, in the late afternoon, a group of eligible voters in Madison filed a lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court seeking a declaration from the court that the return of absentee ballots to the City of Madison Clerk’s Office at “Democracy in the Park” events is and will be consistent with Wisconsin election law. The voters seek assurances from the court that ballots returned at the event last week and those that will be returned at future events are lawful, legally cast ballots, and that they will not be subject to being invalidated merely because they were returned by voters at the outdoor event. Stafford Rosenbaum LLP Attorneys Doug Poland and Jeff Mandell represent plaintiffs in the case.

In the face of a global pandemic, an unprecedented number of mail-in absentee ballot requests, and widely reported issues of delays by the USPS, Wisconsin municipalities sought creative solutions to ensure that all eligible voters have safe and meaningful opportunities to vote. The City of Madison, in response to requests from voters for options to return absentee ballots in person, organized outdoor events called “Democracy in the Park” where voters could return their absentee ballots to poll workers throughout the City’s 200+ parks. The City instituted security protocols to ensure that the event complied with all relevant ballot-security requirements. Sworn, trained poll workers were present to accept ballots in every park. Approximately 10,000 absentee ballots were returned at the first of these events, held on September 26, 2020.

Following the event, Wisconsin’s legislative leadership sent a letter to City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl stating that the Democracy in the Park event was not compliant with Wisconsin law and threatening that the ballots collected will be challenged in court and ultimately invalidated. The action taken today is an effort to obtain assurances from the court that the ballots collected are lawful, legally cast ballots.

Attorneys Jeff Mandell and Doug Poland noted: “Every vote should be counted. Our effort today seeks to ensure that every Madison voter who chooses to deposit their ballot at the Democracy in the Park event can rest easy that their vote will count. Democracy in the Park is an innovative program to enhance democratic participation and bring people out to Madison’s beautiful parks. Nothing about the program is illegal or even questionable. We’re asking a court to quash cynical efforts to cast doubt on the legality of this event and thereby to suppress the votes of some Madison residents.”

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