MILWAUKEE — A conservative group says $6.3 million in grants meant to help with November's election in Wisconsin's five largest cities amount to bribery to increase voter turnout in Democratic strongholds, and it is is asking a federal judge to block the funding.
Wisconsin Voters Alliance and seven of its members filed a lawsuit Thursday in federal court claiming that grants announced in July by the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life violate federal election law that says only states, not cities, have discretion about how to implement federal election law.
According to the lawsuit, Wisconsin Voters Alliance is seeking to ensure "public confidence in the integrity of Wisconsin's elections." The lawsuit asserts that the Center for Tech and Civic Life has progressive leanings and gave the money to cities that tend to vote Democratic, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Milwaukee is set to receive more than $2.1 million. Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha and Racine are also getting grant money.
"A government's election policy favoring demographic groups is an equivalent injury to disfavoring demographic groups," the lawsuit says, adding that the Center for Tech and Civic Life has also given money to cities in five other states, including Michigan and Pennsylvania, whose legislatures would not accept it.
The Center for Tech and Civic Life said in a statement that the grants are part of an "open call grant program" available to every local election department to ensure they can hold elections safely and securely during the coronavirus pandemic.
"All eligible Americans deserve to have their vote count — regardless of political affiliation, whether they live in rural or urban communities, or somewhere in between. Over 1,100 election administrators across the country agree and have already applied for support," the center said. "As a non-partisan organization backed by Democrats, Republicans, and nonpartisan officials, we are confident that these frivolous charges are without merit, and look forward to continuing this critical grant program in these unprecedented times."
The lawsuit says the Wisconsin cities plan to use the money to help voters get appropriate identification, as well as for gloves, masks and hand sanitizer for poll workers, secure drop boxes for absentee ballots, staffing in-person early voting locations, and other expenses.
Wisconsin Voters Alliance says the grants are constitutionally impermissible public-private partnerships that give an appearance of undue influence on a federal election.