(Reuters) - Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker must hold special elections in two state districts, a judge ruled on Thursday, after Democrats said he was putting off the votes over fears of losing the formerly Republican-held seats.
The ruling coincides with a political climate favoring Democrats because President Donald Trump, a Republican, is historically unpopular in opinion polls eight months before midterm elections across the United States.
Walker had argued he was not obliged to hold elections for the seats left vacant since December, but Dane County Circuit Judge Josann Reynolds said the Republican governor had misinterpreted state law and must hold votes promptly, court documents showed.
Walker's office said in an emailed statement that it was working with the Department of Justice to determine the next steps in the case.
Democrats believe they have a shot at the two Wisconsin seats after Democrat Patty Schachtner in January won a special election in the state for a Senate seat that had long been in Republican hands.
Under Reynold's ruling, Walker must call the two special elections by next week with votes likely to take place in early June.
The two seats, one in the Wisconsin State Assembly and one in the Wisconsin Senate, became vacant when the Republican incumbents took jobs in Walker’s administration.
A Democratic group headed by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sued Walker demanding he hold special elections on grounds citizens in the districts were being denied legislative representation while the seats were left empty.
"This is an important victory for the impacted citizens of Wisconsin who have gone without representation because of Governor Walker’s refusal to call special elections," Holder said in a statement on Thursday.
(Reporting By Andrew Hay; editing by Grant McCool)