Court blocks extension of Wisconsin absentee ballot deadline, a win for GOP

Voting booths are cleaned during the Democratic presidential primary in Kenosha, Wis.
An election observer cleans voting booths April 7 during the Democratic presidential primary at the Kenosha Bible Church gym in Kenosha, Wis.
(AFP/Getty Images)

A federal appeals court on Thursday blocked a decision to extend the deadline for counting absentee ballots in the battleground state of Wisconsin, in a win for Republicans who have fought attempts to expand voting across the country.

If the ruling stands, absentee ballots will have to be delivered to Wisconsin election clerks by 8 p.m. on election day if they are to be counted. Results of the presidential race in the pivotal swing state would be known within hours of polls closing.

Democrats almost certainly will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Under state law, absentee ballots are due in local clerks’ offices by 8 p.m. on election night, but Democrats and allied groups sued to extend the deadline after the April presidential primary held during the deadly pandemic saw long lines, fewer polling places, a shortage of poll workers and thousands of ballots mailed days after the election.


U.S. District Judge William Conley ruled last month that any ballots that arrive in clerk’s offices by Nov. 9 will be counted, as long as they are postmarked by election day, Nov. 3.

These states will probably decide if Joe Biden or President Trump wins the election. And their absentee ballot laws could determine when we find out.

Oct. 28, 2020

State election officials anticipate as many as 2 million people will cast absentee ballots in November to avoid exposing themselves to the coronavirus at the polls. That would be three times more than in any previous election and could overwhelm election officials and the postal service, Conley wrote.

Republicans appealed to a three-judge panel at the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The panel upheld Conley’s ruling on Sept. 29.

Republicans then asked all 11 members of the court to review the case. The court stayed Conley’s decision on Thursday.

Any development in the case could have ramifications in the presidential race. President Trump won Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point — fewer than 23,000 votes — in 2016. Polls show the Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden with a slight lead in the state, but both sides expect a tight race.

Trump has attacked voting by mail, making false claims of rampant fraud. He has argued mail balloting will hurt his chances at reelection, saying Democrats are more likely to vote by mail while his supporters cast ballots in person.