Twenty-three Democratic lawmakers signed a letter to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, on Tuesday, urging the state legislature to reconvene and pass legislation which would allow absentee ballots to be processed before Nov. 3.
In the letter, eight senators and 15 representatives led by Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, called on the state legislature to “meet in extraordinary session as soon as practicable” to vote on the issue.
Larson and other Democrats referenced a bipartisan bill introduced in November 2019 that would allow local clerks to process absentee ballots before the general election date.
Legislators argued that counting ballots early is necessary to make sure Wisconsin’s election results can be reported in a timely manner on election night. Wisconsin is one of just four states in the country that does not allow clerks to begin counting absentee ballots before election day, according to a New York Times analysis.
“Election integrity is of utmost concern for voters in Wisconsin,” the letter reads. “And the longer the count takes, the more potential for mistrust in results to be fomented by those who mean harm to our democracy.”
The letter referenced comments from Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who supported counting ballots early last month on WISN’s “UpFront” with Adrienne Pedersen.
“I think we should change the law so the ballots can be counted well before Election Day, so that Wisconsin results are known by 9, 10, 11 o’clock on Election Day, so Wisconsin isn’t part of the problem,” Johnson said.
The push for pre-election day processing of absentee ballots comes as Democrats and other affiliated groups appeal an Oct. 8 ruling, which blocked a six-day extension for ballots to be counted after the election, to the U.S. Supreme Court. The three-judge panel on the 7th Circuit Court ruled that federal courts could not interfere with Wisconsin’s election laws.
“The State Legislature offers two principal arguments in support of a stay: First, that a federal court should not change the rules so close to an election; second, that political rather than judicial officials are entitled to decide when a pandemic justifies changes to rules that are otherwise valid,” the majority wrote.
Judge Ilana Rover dissented in the ruling, citing concerns over pandemic voting.
“Today, in the midst of a pandemic and significantly slowed mail delivery, this court leaves voters to their own devices,” she wrote. “Good luck and G-d bless, Wisconsin. You are going to need it.”
The Supreme Court ruled on a similar issue in April when the court’s majority refused to extend absentee voting in Wisconsin’s Spring Primary beyond Election Day. If the Supreme Court follows in the footsteps of last April’s decision, Wisconsinites who vote absentee will likely be required to ensure their ballots are received by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3 for their vote to be counted.