Wisconsin election decision on absentee ballots is kept on hold for now as appeals court considers the case

MADISON – A federal appeals court Sunday continued to block a recent decision that would allow more absentee ballots in Wisconsin to be counted. 

U.S. District Judge William Conley last week issued a decision that would change a number of election laws. He put a one-week hold on his own decision so an appeal could be considered.

That hold was to expire Monday, but the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on Sunday extended the hold while it considers the case. 

The appeals court is expected to issue a ruling in the coming days or weeks, and that ruling will determine whether Conley’s decision goes into effect. The losing side could appeal its decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, though the high court wouldn’t necessarily take it. 

Conley sought to make several changes to Wisconsin’s voting rules for the Nov. 3 presidential election because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The case is being watched nationally because Wisconsin is one of the top battlegrounds in the race between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden. Trump narrowly won Wisconsin in 2016. 

Ordinarily, absentee ballots can be counted only if they have been received by clerks by election day. Conley’s ruling would allow absentee ballots received by Nov. 9 to be counted as long as they were postmarked on Nov. 3 or earlier. His ruling is meant in part to account for a recent slowing of mail delivery. 

Conley’s ruling would also allow voters to get replacement absentee ballots by email if the ones they requested through the mail were not delivered on time. 

In addition, his ruling would give voters an extra week to register to vote through the mail or through the state’s myvote.wi.gov website. The new deadline would be Oct. 21 instead of Oct. 14.

He issued his decision in response to four lawsuits brought by Democrats, groups allied with them and nonpartisan entities. Republicans appealed the ruling. 

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.