A federal judge ruled earlier this week to extend the cutoff to count absentee ballots by six days after the election, but the decision is being appealed by the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Legislature and is expected to make its way all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
U.S. District Judge William Conley's decision came Monday after Democrats argued that an extension was needed to accommodate for the influx of voters requesting mail-in ballots, and allow them time to both receive and send back their votes just five weeks before the election.
Republicans have said there is more than enough time for absentee voters to arrange for their ballots to be submitted by the original cutoff of 8 p.m. on Election Day, and Wisconsin's GOP leaders said Wednesday they plan to ask the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to put the ruling on hold pending appeal.
Conley's ruling mirrored a similar extension he granted during April's presidential primaries, when nearly 7% of all ballots cast were returned the week after polls closed. The uptick in absentee voting is partly attributable to the coronavirus pandemic but comes at a time when the USPS has faced backlash about slowed mail deliveries and shoddy service that has left thousands of ballots undelivered in this year's primaries.
While more than 1 million absentee ballots have been requested to date, the Wisconsin Elections Commission anticipates as many as 2 million will eventually be cast. That would be three times more than any other previous election, which threatens to overwhelm election officials, Conley said. The U.S. Postal Service will also “undoubtedly be overwhelmed again with ballots in November, as they were in April,” Conley wrote.
Conley, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, also agreed with Democrats to lift the Oct. 14 deadline for by-mail and electronic voter registration. The judge extended it until Oct. 21. Conley further ruled that poll workers can work in any county, not just in the one they live. Clerks have reported a shortage of poll workers due to the pandemic, and loosening the residency rules could make it easier to fill slots.
The state's Election Commission has urged voters to request and submit their ballots as soon as possible to avoid being eliminated from the count come Nov. 3.
Wisconsin, a crucial swing state that President Trump clinched by less than a percentage point in 2016, is a toss-up for him and Democratic challenger Joe Biden. Currently, the most recent Reuters/Ipsos poll shows Biden leading Trump by five percentage points.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.