MADISON – Groups seeking to allow late-arriving absentee ballots to be counted in Wisconsin took their case Tuesday to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The push came a week after an appeals court determined that none of Wisconsin’s voting laws should be changed because of the coronavirus pandemic. That means absentee ballots will be counted only if they arrive in municipal clerks’ offices by Election Day.
Wisconsin 2020 election guide:How to vote and what to know about the ballot
Democrats, their allies and nonpartisan groups hope to reinstate a lower-court ruling that would allow absentee ballots to be counted if they arrive after Election Day as long as they are postmarked by then.
“We hope that the Supreme Court will do the right thing and allow election officials to count all valid ballots cast by Election Day, even if ballots are delayed in the mail and arrive a few days later,” said a statement from Farbod Faraji, an attorney with the group Protect Democracy that is involved in the case.
“But voters should not count on that. Everyone voting absentee should submit their ballot as early as possible so that their municipal clerk RECEIVES it no later than 8 p.m. on November 3 (Election Day).”
Time is short because of the fast-approaching election.
The nation’s high court allowed absentee ballots for Wisconsin’s April election for state Supreme Court to be counted after Election Day if they were postmarked by then. That resulted in about 80,000 additional ballots being counted.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court did not go as far as U.S. District Judge William Conley had wanted in that case. Conley had ruled absentee ballots for that election should be counted even if they were returned after Election Day. He would have allowed that because some voters weren’t expected to receive absentee ballots they requested by Election Day.
The U.S. Supreme Court found that absentee ballots for that election had to have been put in the mail by Election Day to be counted.
Now, for the high-stakes presidential election, the justices will have to decide whether to again allow ballots to be counted if they arrive in clerks’ offices after Election Day or to stick with the state law that says they can be counted only if they are received by election officials by the time polls close.
The high court in recent cases has rejected changes to voting laws in other states because of the pandemic. The court is one justice short at the moment because of the recent death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
In the latest case from Wisconsin, Conley ordered several changes to Wisconsin’s voting laws. In addition to allowing late-arriving ballots, Conley extended the deadline to register to vote by mail and through the state’s online portal and said poll workers could serve in any community, not just those in the county where they live.
In its 2-1 decision last week, a panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Conley and kept all the state’s voting laws in place. The appeal was sought by Republicans who argued no changes to election laws were warranted.
The case is being closely watched because of Wisconsin’s battleground status. Donald Trump narrowly won the state in 2016, but Democratic nominee Joe Biden has led in recent polls.
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.