Here and Now 2020

Court Reverts to Status Quo on Ballot Deadline

The 2-1 decision from the 7th Circuit ruled ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

By Will Kenneally

October 8, 2020

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Absentee ballots

An absentee ballot from the 2012 presidential election. (Courtesy: Michael Leland / WPR)

A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that Wisconsin is back to status quo for when absentee ballots can be received by election clerks.

The 7th Circuit’s decision blocked the ruling of a federal judge in Madison that would have allowed for six extra days clerks could receive ballots postmarked by Election Day.

Graphic showing voting deadlines as of Oct. 8, 2020. Absentee ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

After Thursday’s ruling, ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. Nov. 3.

Two judges from the three-judge panel ruled that the deadline extension fell too close to Election Day, which has the potential to create confusion.

“The [U.S Supreme Court] Justices have deprecated but not forbidden all change close to an election. A last-minute event may require a last-minute reaction. But it is not possible to describe COVID-19 as a last-minute event,” the judges wrote in their opinion.

Wisconsin voters were given a similar extension during the April election, during which absentee ballots postmarked by election day could be received and counted up to a week after the election. The judges indicated that circumstances were different in the spring because the pandemic was so new.

“Voters have had many months since March to register or obtain absentee ballots; reading the Constitution to extend deadlines near the election is difficult to justify when the voters have had a long time to cast ballots while preserving social distancing,” the judges added.

The decision faced a fiery dissent from Judge Ilana Rovner, who charged that “no citizen should have to choose between her health and her right to vote.”

She criticized the state Legislature for choosing to intervene in the lawsuit, rather than use its legislative power to create policy.

“By granting that stay, the court adopts a hands-off approach to election governance that elevates legislative prerogative over a citizen’s fundamental right to vote,” she wrote.

“Good luck and G-d bless, Wisconsin. You are going to need it,” Rovner concluded.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called the ruling a win for fair elections.

“Once again, outside liberal interest groups have been thwarted from meddling in a Wisconsin election,” he said. “Thanks to the diligence of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Wisconsin elections will be held under the same state laws that have served us so well in the past.”

This story was updated to include comment from Speaker Robin Vos.

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