Federal judge extends election deadlines, absentee ballots can be received until Nov. 9

    An absentee ballots for the April 7 election. (Photo by Henry Redman)
    An absentee ballots for the April 7 election. (Photo by Henry Redman)

    A federal judge on Monday extended a number of Wisconsin’s election-related deadlines, including a six-day extension to the date by which mailed absentee ballots must be received. 

    U.S. District Judge William Conley ruled that many of the barriers to voting that existed in the April election when he moved deadlines back in the state’s April 7 primary would again exist in November. 

    “Election workers’ and voters’ experiences during Wisconsin’s primary election in April, which took place at the outset of the COVID-19 crisis, have convinced the court that some, limited relief from statutory deadlines for mail-in registration and absentee voting is again necessary to avoid an untenable impingement on Wisconsin citizens’ right to vote, including the near certainty of disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters relying on the state’s absentee ballot process,” Conley wrote. 

    Along with extending the receipt deadline for absentee ballots from Nov. 3 at 8 p.m. to Nov. 9 — as long as they’re mailed and postmarked on or before Election Day — Conley extended a number of other deadlines. 

    The deadline for online and mail-in registration was moved from Oct. 14 to Oct. 21. A Wisconsin law that requires absentee ballots be mailed to domestic civilian voters — voters not in the military or living overseas — was enjoined which will allow clerks to email replacement ballots to voters between Oct. 22 and Oct. 29 in case ballots aren’t received in the mail in time. 

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    Conley also directed the Wisconsin Elections Commission to re-promote its “indefinitely confined” voter guidance from March and enjoined the state law that requires each election official be an elector of the county they’re working in. 

    Conley’s order is in a number of cases brought by the Democratic National Committee and others requesting election-related changes because of COVID-19. The Republican National Committee, the Republican Party of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Legislature joined the cases as intervening defendants. 

    “The limited relief awarded today is without regard to (or even knowledge of) who may be helped, except the average Wisconsin voter, be they party-affiliated or independent,” Conley wrote in a footnote of his order. “Having grown up in Northern Wisconsin with friends across the political spectrum (and in some cases back again), my only interest, as it should be for all citizens, is ensuring a fair election by giving the overtaxed, small WEC staff and local election officials what flexibility the law allows to vindicate the right to vote during a pandemic.”

    To account for a likely appeal, Conley stayed his order one week and told voters not to count on the deadlines he laid out.

    Henry Redman
    Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.