In their decision yesterday, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision pushing the deadline for absentee ballots from Election Day, November 3rd, to November 9th.
Under pre-existing state law, absentee ballots need to be in clerks’ hands by election day. Now, as long as they’re received by the November 9th deadline, ballots just need to be postmarked by election day.
The upheld ruling also extends the deadline to register to vote online from October 14th to the 21st and will allow poll workers to serve in any Wisconsin county, not just the one in which they reside.
Per the court’s decision, the plaintiffs in the case, the Wisconsin Republican party, the GOP-controlled state legislature and the Republican National Committee, didn’t have the authority to challenge the ruling. The court judges held that they can only challenge the decision if it directly affects their interests.
According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, earlier today the plaintiffs attempted to punt the case over to the conservative-leaning Wisconsin Supreme Court, but were blocked by the appeals court.
Despite the unanimous ruling by the three-judge panel, all of whom were appointed by Republican presidents, Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell says he’s not hopeful the decision will hold through election day.
“I expect this to go to the Supreme Court and I just think right now, it’s still in flux,” McDonell says. “I think what people should do is return their absentee ballot as soon as possible and assume there won’t be an extension.”
McDonell has good reason to be skeptical — this litigation closely mirrors the process during the spring election this year, in which extensions on absentee voting were shot down shortly before the election.
In April, the extension to receive ballots for six days after election day was overturned in a 4-5 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court a few hours before the election.
McDonell says that, despite the extension, it’s likely the bulk of returns will be available shortly after election day. He says that processing issues the clerk’s office encountered in April were due to the sudden onset of the coronavirus.
But this time, they’re prepared.
“I would guess that not a lot of ballots are going to come in after election day, since everyone is so aware and has time,” he says. “What happened in April was based on a sudden shift, late in the process, to voting by mail that was hard on the clerks to handle and the postal service to turn around.”
At last night’s presidential debate, the controversy around absentee voting took center stage. As the finale to a chaotic ninety-minutes, Moderator Chris Wallace asked both candidates if they would wait until the election had been independently certified to declare victory.
Joe Biden said he would wait for the returns to be certified before making a call. President Donald Trump agreed that he would respect the return results, if he determined the election was fair.
President Trump has repeatedly attacked absentee and mail-in voting on the campaign trail, arguing that the process is corrupt.
“If it’s a fair election, I am 100% on board,” Trump said. “But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.”
The Wisconsin Elections Commission reports that nearly 1.2 million absentee ballots have been sent to Wisconsin voters so far. As of today About 350,000 of those have been returned.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify that it was a panel of three judges of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who upheld the extension, not the full 11-person court.