Jeramey Jannene

Absentee Ballot Deadlines Extended, Election Not Delayed by Federal Judge

Ballots must now be received by April 13th at 4 p.m., a six day delay.

By - Apr 2nd, 2020 05:00 pm
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Federal judge William Conley granted voters and poll workers some relief in a Thursday afternoon ruling, but declined to delay the April 7th Spring Election.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot via the state’s My Vote WI website and other means has been extended 24 hours to Friday at 5:00 p.m. More significantly, ballots are not required to be received back until April 13th at 4:00 p.m.

“The only role of a federal district court is to take steps that help avoid the impingement on citizens’ rights to exercise their voting franchise as protected by the United States Constitution and federal statutes,” wrote Conley in his decision. “That is what the court attempts to do . . . understanding that a consequence of these measures may be to further the public health crisis in this State. Unfortunately, that is beyond the power of this court to control.”

Voters living alone also were granted relief. The requirement to have a witness sign the ballot has been waved as long the voter submits a letter explaining their circumstances. Albrecht said Wednesday that the city has received approximately 500 ballots back without the necessary signature.

The ruling also partially addresses a timing issue in Milwaukee and other communities where it was expected that all of the mail-in ballots couldn’t be counted by the end of election day on April 7th. The already-received mail-in ballots can’t be counted before the election starts, but extending the deadline for ballots to be received reduces the urgency to process.

Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Neil Albrecht said the city had issued 75,000 mail-in ballots as of Wednesday afternoon, but said it was possible based on past spring elections that tens of thousands of people could still come to the polls. The Wisconsin Elections Commission reports that over 1.1 million ballots have been requested across the state.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for voters, for public health, and for democracy itself. Every voter must count, even during crises, and this ruling gives voters critical time to vote safely by mail,” said Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Ben Wikler. The party had brought the lawsuit, with the Republican Party asking for the suit to be dismissed.

As of Tuesday, a Wisconsin Elections Commission survey revealed that more than 100 municipalities reported they had no poll workers available. Albrecht said the City of Milwaukee had less than 400, down over 1,000 from usual, and as a result was working to consolidate from 180 polling sites to no more than 140. Governor Tony Evers announced Wednesday he would deploy the Wisconsin National Guard to serve as poll workers in communities that need them, but Albrecht said it was “too little, too late” for Milwaukee.

The City of Milwaukee continues to operate five drop sites for absentee ballots and one drive-thru voting site. Poll workers are able to serve as witnesses at the five drop-off sites.

Conley was critical of the decision by Republican legislators and Evers to not delay the election. “The State of Wisconsin’s Legislature and Governor are not willing to step up and say there’s a public health crisis and make it absolutely clear that we should not be allowing poll workers and voters to congregate on April 7,” Conley said Wednesday.

The calls for delay or moving to mail-in only have grown louder in Milwaukee. Mayor Tom Barrett, who finds himself on the ballot, called for a mail-in only election. Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, who is not running for re-election, called for a delay. “I don’t think delaying this is going to kill anybody, but if we have this election that will lead to more transmission which will lead to more loss of lives,” said Abele after the ruling came down.

Conley previously issued a ruling on the case that extended online voter registration to March 30th.

UPDATE: The state and national Republican parties have filed appeals on the case.

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