The Republican National Committee and Wisconsin Republicans on Saturday asked the Supreme Court to freeze a lower court opinion that extends the state’s absentee ballot deadline, giving voters an extra six days to submit their ballots from Election Day to April 13.
The emergency filing marks the first coronavirus-related petition that the justices will review since the pandemic gripped the country. Although the Supreme Court’s doors are closed to the public, the justices are still working remotely.
In the emergency petition, filed Saturday afternoon, lawyers for the RNC and Wisconsin Republicans argue that “requiring a state to permit unlimited absentee voting for almost a week after election day presents significant dangers to election integrity, voter confidence and the orderly administration of an election that already has strained state resources due to the difficult circumstances associated with COVID-19.”
The lawyers, noting that the election is “already in full swing,” asked the Court to block the absentee extension for now as the appeals process plays out and clarify that absentee ballots must be postmarked (or personally delivered to the polls) no later than April 7 in order to be counted. They asked the Court to act “no later than Monday, April 6.”
On Sunday, lawyers for the Democratic National Committee responded to the Republicans by arguing that the record “conclusively establishes that thousands of voters, at a minimum, will be disenfranchised if their requested absentee ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday the 7th.”
In a brief filed with the Supreme Court, Marc Elias, a lawyer for the Democrats, said that there is already a backlog of 21,590 requested ballots that haven’t been mailed out.
“If an election-day postmark were required,” he wrote, “that would result in the outright disenfranchisement of all these voters through no fault of their own.” He also noted that, until recently, “Wisconsin voters reasonably expected they would be able to vote safely in person on election day or through a reliable, well-functioning absentee ballot system,” but that had changed because of the pandemic.
Elias warned if the Court were to rule in favor of the Republicans, it would drive more people to vote in person on Election Day, “thereby increasing the risks of community spread through polling places.”
The GOP’s filing came after a ruling Friday night from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. That court denied a request from Wisconsin Republicans to reinstate the original election night deadline. The appeals court did, however, block a district court opinion that said the state must also count ballots from those who submit a “written affirmation or other statement” that they weren’t able to get a witness to sign their ballots.
Tuesday’s upcoming election has been mired in legal and political controversy.
Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tom Evers called for an emergency legislative session on Saturday to change the election to vote-by-mail and the date to late May.
The Republican-controlled legislature opened a session and immediately adjourned it, accusing the governor of playing politics because he made these proposals during their original discussions on how to address the election during the spread of Covid-19.
“Republicans in the Legislature are playing politics with public safety and ignoring the urgency of this public health crisis. It’s wrong. No one should have to choose between their health and their right to vote,” Evers said in a statement on Saturday. “It’s time for every Republican legislator to do their jobs and take a vote on this commonsense proposal to extend the election date so everyone can vote safely from home. I urge every Wisconsinite to contact their legislators and demand a vote.”
“If the governor had legitimate concerns, we could have come to a bipartisan solution weeks ago … The only bipartisan discussion we’ve had was to ensure the election would continue safely and to maximize the opportunity to vote absentee,” Wisconsin Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a joint statement on Friday, responding to Evers’ call for the session.
“Unfortunately, it’s this type of feckless leadership Wisconsin has come to expect of the governor in the face of this crisis. Instead of remaining strong to ensure our representative democracy continues, he caves under political pressures from national liberal special interest groups.”
Preparations for the election have become a complex operation, for which Evers has called upon the Wisconsin National Guard to help facilitate. They have been tasked with acquiring and distributing sanitation supplies for precincts, while also training to become poll workers on Tuesday.
Fifteen states have already changed their election dates, most of which were set to occur in April. Wisconsin is the only one to allow in-person voting on the original date this month.