April 7, 2020 – The U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision last night that blocks an extended deadline to mail absentee ballots in Wisconsin. Under the ruling, absentee ballots must be postmarked or otherwise hand-delivered delivered by April 7 (today) to be counted.
On April 2, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin enjoined enforcement of a state law that required absentee ballots to be received by 8 p.m. on election day (April 7) in order to be counted, and extended the deadline to April 13.
That meant Wisconsinites could mail their ballots after the April 7 election day (today) and it would be counted as long as it was received by 4 p.m. on April 13.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Wisconsinites flocked to the absentee ballot option in record numbers, creating a backlog of registrations for state election officials. The district court’s order noted that the extension was warranted to protect voting rights.
On April 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals largely upheld the district court’s order with modification that noted unofficial election results could not be released until April 13.
The Republican National Committee and the Republican Party of Wisconsin quickly appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the High Court to block the lower district court’s and reinstate the April 7 deadline for filing absentee ballots.
In per curiam opinion released last night, a five-justice majority blocked the lower court’s order on extension and reinstated the deadline to file absentee ballots.
That is, ballots must be postmarked today (April 7) or hand-delivered today by 8 p.m. They will still be counted if received by municipal clerks by 4 p.m. on April 13.
“Extending the date by which ballots may be cast by voters – not just received by the municipal clerks but cast by voters – for an additional six days after the scheduled election day fundamentally alters the nature of the election,” the opinion states.
“The Court’s decision on the narrow question before the Court should not be viewed as expressing an opinion on the broader question of whether to hold the election, or whether other reforms or modifications in election procedures in light of COVID–19 are appropriate. That point cannot be stressed enough.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonya Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.
The concerns advanced by the Court and the applicants pale in comparison to the risk that tens of thousands of voters will be disenfranchised,” Justice Ginsburg wrote.
“Ensuring an opportunity for the people of Wisconsin to exercise their votes should be our paramount concern.”