Yesterday, AP news reported that the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals “halted a six-day extension for counting absentee ballots in Wisconsin’s presidential election, a momentary victory for Republicans and President Donald Trump in the key presidential battleground state.” On September 21, U.S. District Judge, William Conley ruled that any ballot postmarked November 3rd could be counted if received 6 days after the election. He put a one week hold on his decision so that an “appeal could be considered.”
Judge Conley sought to make several changes to Wisconsin’s voting rules due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Absentee voting may reach record numbers due to the pandemic. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that “clerks around the state sent more than 1 million absentee ballots to voters.” State officials estimate that “as many as 2 million people will cast absentee ballots” in the November election.
Conley ruled that voters who wait to request absentee ballots until the normal deadline of October 29 “face a significant risk of being disenfranchised because their executed, mailed ballot will not be received by officials on or before the current election day deadline,“ He continued,” it is particularly unreasonable to expect undecided voters to exercise their voting franchise by absentee ballot well before the end of the presidential campaign, especially when Wisconsin’s statutory deadline is giving them a false sense of confidence in timely receipt.”
He also addressed the issue of missing postmarks. He ruled that the state should “generally err toward counting otherwise legitimate absentee ballots lacking a definitive postmark if received by mail after election day but no later than November 9, 2020, as long as the ballot is signed and witnessed on or before November 3, 2020, unless there is some reason to believe that the ballot was actually placed in the mail after election day,”
Judge Conley “extended the deadline to vote by mail or through the myvote.wi.gov.” That is a one-week extension. Usually, absentee ballots must be physically delivered. This year, however, they may receive a replacement ballot via email or the website. Wisconsin also allows voter registration at the polls.
The pandemic has made it difficult for states to find poll workers. So, Conley also stipulated that poll workers can come from any county, not just the one where they live.
Conley’s order was in response to a lawsuit filed “with the assistance of Protect Democracy, a Washington D.C.-based group formed by former aides to President Barack Obama that says it is focused on nonpartisan issues. Rachel Goodman, counsel for the group, said the lawsuit is meant to make it easier for all Wisconsinites to vote.”
Detailed in the lawsuit were demands to “ensure people have ample opportunities to vote in person or by mail for the August primary and November general election. It [aimed] to force election officials to hire more poll workers, send absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters, set up secure drop boxes for absentee ballots in every community and notify voters if their ballots won’t be counted so they have time to fix any problems.” The purpose of the lawsuit was to mitigate the risk of losing votes due to delays in mail and lack of poll workers. Three other lawsuits are being consolidated under Judge Conley’s ruling.
State Republicans argued that current absentee voting rules should stay in place. They maintained that voters have plenty of time to receive and submit their ballots.
Due to the stay, as it stands now, ballots will be due by 8 p.m. on Election Night. The Wisconsin race could be tight. In 2016, Trump won the state by fewer than 23,000 votes. The 2020 race will be another “key battleground” for the Trump Campaign.