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Monday, June 14, 2021
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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-3 Monday to not allow absentee ballots to be counted up to six days after the election in Wisconsin. Elections officials said today is the practical deadline for voters to return ballots in the mail. 

Supreme Court rules Wisconsin ballots must be received by Election Day

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-3 Monday to not grant a six-day extension to county ballots in Wisconsin, and now requires all ballots to be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day. 

Democrats asked the Supreme Court to review an Oct. 8 ruling by a federal appeals court that put a hold on a district court ruling that would have allowed ballots to be counted if they are received up to six days after Nov. 3, as long as they were postmarked by Election Day. 

Wisconsin officials say the ruling effectively makes Tuesday, Oct. 27 the deadline to send back mail-in ballots in the state, as no guarantee can be made that ballots mailed later will arrive in time to be counted.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh stated in his concurring opinion that the district court ruling changed Wisconsin’s election laws too close to the election. 

“Although the District Court’s order was well intentioned and thorough, it nonetheless contravened this Court’s longstanding precedents by usurping the proper role of the state legislature and rewriting state election laws in the period close to an election,” Kavanaugh wrote

The court’s three liberal justices dissented, including Justice Elena Kagan, who noted that the state allowed a similar six-day window for primary voting in April. Kagan said it is difficult to see why an extension would confuse voters. 

“At worst, a voter not informed of the new deadline would (if she could) put her ballot in the mail a few days earlier than needed,” Kagan wrote. “What will undermine the ‘integrity’ of that process is not the counting but instead the discarding of timely cast ballots that, because of pandemic conditions, arrive a bit after Election Day.” 

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was confirmed Monday night by the Senate and sworn in by Justice Clarence Thomas, did not participate in the case. 

Republican Party of Wisconsin Chairman Andrew Hitt supported the ruling. 

“Democrats’ attempts to get the courts to rewrite Wisconsin’s election laws on the eve of an election have failed. Absentee voting in Wisconsin is extremely easy and hundreds of thousands of people have done it already — last-minute attempts to change election laws only cause more voter confusion and erode the integrity of our elections,” Hitt said.

Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Ben Wikler urged voters on Twitter to hand-deliver their ballots if they request them, or to vote in-person on Election Day or at early voting sites. Wikler also announced a voter education campaign to make voters aware of deadlines. 

Biden has a 73-26 lead over Trump among early voters, but Trump leads among individuals who have not yet voted, according to recent UW Election Research Center polling

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According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, 1,771,503 absentee ballots have been sent and 1,451,462 have been returned as of Oct. 27. That means about 320,000, or 18 percent, have not yet been received. 

On Monday, the Wisconsin Elections Commission urged voters not to wait until the legal deadline — Oct. 29 at 5 p.m. — to request a ballot by mail. The commission said Oct. 27 is the practical deadline to return ballots, as the U.S. Postal Service recommends one week to allow ballots to be delivered to clerks’ offices. 

“The absentee by mail deadlines in law don’t correspond with the amount of time it may take to receive and return your ballot by mail,” Administrator Meagan Wolfe said

The Supreme Court ruling adds additional uncertainty for Outagamie and Calumet counties, who asked the State Supreme Court Monday for guidance on addressing a misprint on about 13,000 ballots. 

State law requires defective ballots to be rewritten by clerks, but the clerks are afraid they will miss a deadline that requires them to tally votes by 4 p.m. on Nov. 4, the day after the election, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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Hope Karnopp

state news writer

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