The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature on Wednesday asked a federal appeals court to suspend its ruling that would allow absentee ballots to be counted in the presidential battleground state for six days after the election.
The Legislature asked the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to keep the ruling on hold until the Wisconsin Supreme Court addresses a separate question about whether the Legislature has standing to sue in the case. Keeping the ruling on hold would be in keeping with federal court precedent to “avoid sowing ‘voter confusion’ during an impending (or, here, ongoing) election,” attorneys for the Legislature wrote.
The filing came a day after the appeals court vacated its stay of a lower court ruling that granted the six-day extension for counting ballots. The court ruled that the Legislature, the Republican National Committee and state Republican Party did not have the legal standing to bring the case.
Absentee ballots typically must be received by the time polls close at 8 p.m. on Election Day. Democrats and their allies sued, arguing that more time was needed to count them this year because of the massive number of absentee ballots being cast due to the coronavirus pandemic. A federal court judge on Sept. 21 agreed and granted the extension, which the appeals court upheld.
Republicans across the country have fought attempts to expand voting, particularly in battleground states such as Wisconsin. Democrats contend the move is meant to suppress the votes of people more likely to vote Democratic.
The Democratic National Committee, the state Democratic Party and allied groups including the League of Women Voters sued in Wisconsin to extend the absentee ballot deadline after the April presidential primary saw long lines, fewer polling places, a shortage of workers and thousands of ballots mailed days after the election.
Wisconsin elections officials anticipate as many as 2 million people will cast absentee ballots to avoid the risk of catching the coronavirus at the polls. As of Wednesday, more than 1.2 million absentee ballots had been requested and more than 350,000 had been returned. The last day to request a mail-in ballot is Oct. 29, but officials say people who want to vote that way should not wait that long.
The Legislature is now asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to answer the question of whether the Legislature can appeal an injunction blocking a state law. The Legislature said answering that question would provide clarity, especially for the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately is likely to decide the case.
The Legislature asked the federal court to certify the question for the Wisconsin Supreme Court to answer no later than Monday.
Trump won Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point — fewer than 23,000 votes — in 2016 and the state figures to be a key battleground again this year. Polls show Democrat Joe Biden with a slight lead but both sides expect a tight race, making these legal fights all the more important.