Wisconsin election case heads to U.S. Supreme Court

    Washington D.C. US Supreme Court Building

    The group of organizations suing to loosen some Wisconsin election laws to help with accessing the vote during the COVID-19 pandemic applied for the case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday. 

    The groups had initially won some relief in district court when Judge William Conley extended deadlines around requesting and returning absentee ballots, among other changes. Conley’s ruling was overturned by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals last week

    The application to the Supreme Court seeks to reinstate only the provision of Conley’s ruling that would allow local elections officials to email ballots to domestic civilian voters who do not receive their ballots in the mail on time. 

    “Since email delivery has long been available in Wisconsin, there is no such risk of voter confusion from the district court’s ordering that this option be provided once again on a limited basis as a failsafe for voters who request but do not receive their ballot in the mail,” the application states. “This is a last resort, not a first choice”

    Wisconsin currently allows ballots to be emailed to voters in the military and those living overseas. 

    “Wisconsin seniors take voting seriously. If a ballot doesn’t reach a voter in time, despite the voter taking all the steps they should within the deadlines, they should not be disenfranchised,” Gary Mitchell, President of the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans, said in a statement. “We hope the Supreme Court agrees with the lower court, and allows a fail safe option for voters to get the ballots they requested.”

    With just three weeks remaining until the election, there is not much time to act. The deadline for eligible Wisconsin residents to register to vote online or by mail is Oct. 14 — Conley’s ruling would have extended that deadline by one week. 

    In April, the U.S. Supreme Court intervened shortly before Wisconsin’s spring election to overturn another one of Conley’s decisions. In that election, held just weeks after the beginning of Wisconsin’s stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Conley had also extended absentee ballot deadlines. 

    In that case the Supreme Court ruled that absentee ballots needed to be postmarked by 8 p.m. on Election Day. That April ruling caused some confusion at the local level in Wisconsin because the state had not previously used a postmark requirement — which led to inconsistent enforcement in communities across the state. 

    The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 29. Election Day is Nov. 3.

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    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.