Federal judge allows extra week for counting Wisconsin absentee ballots

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Hali Fisher, 24, waits in line to vote at Riverside High School, 1615 E. Locust St. in Milwaukee on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. The Wisconsin primary is moving forward in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic after Gov. Tony Evers sought to shut down Tuesday’s election in a historic move Monday that was swiftly rejected by the conservative majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court by the end of the day.

Mike De Sisti | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | USA Today | Reuters

A federal judge in Wisconsin on Monday sided with Democrats in a wide-ranging ruling that will allow an extra week for absentee ballots to be counted. The ruling will also extend the deadline for online and mail-in registration and ease the rules for hiring election workers. 

District Judge William Conley wrote that the deadline extensions were necessary, given the Covid-19 pandemic, to protect the right of Wisconsin citizens to vote, and said that not doing so would lead to the “near certainty of disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters relying on the state’s absentee ballot process.”

Wisconsin is one of several states likely to be crucial to the outcome of the race between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden that is seeing an onslaught of election-related litigation tied to the global health crisis.

Conley’s ruling extends the deadline for absentee ballots to be received to Nov. 9 if they are postmarked by Nov. 3, which is Election Day. It moves the deadline for voter registration by a week, from Oct. 14 to Oct. 21, and temporarily scraps a state law requiring election officials to be registered voters in the county where they serve. 

Conley paused his ruling from going into effect for one week, citing the likelihood that it will be appealed, and said that “NO voter can depend on any extension of deadlines for electronic and mail-in registration and for receipt of absentee ballots unless finally upheld on appeal.”

The order came in connection with four consolidated lawsuits between a number of organizations, including the national Democratic and Republican parties. Republicans urged the court to keep the existing absentee ballot deadline in place, while Democrats pushed for the extension. 

A similar battle over absentee ballots played out ahead of Wisconsin’s elections in April, escalating all the way to the Supreme Court, which sided with the GOP

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