Supreme Court Sides With Conservatives, Denies Wisconsin Mail-In Ballot Extension

Checks and Balances in the Constitution

( Republicans were finally granted a ballot victory from the Supreme Court.

On Monday, the high court ruled that Wisconsin can’t count mail-in ballots that arrive after the polls close. This time, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the other conservatives on the court, resulting in the 5-3 decision.

A lower court ruling prevented Wisconsin from counting mail-in ballots that arrived as late as six days after November 3.

Groups such as the League of Women Voters and the national and state Democratic parties were suing to extend the deadline for accepting mail-in ballots. They said the huge increase in the number of mail-in ballots, plus issues arising from the pandemic make it harder for voters to receive and then return their mail-in ballots on time.

U.S. District Judge William Conley agreed with the plaintiffs in the case, ordering Wisconsin to accept ballots that arrived up to six days after the November 3 election day. They just needed to be postmarked before polls close on Election Day.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked that order, though, saying in their ruling:

“A last-minute event may require a last-minute reaction. But it is not possible to describe COVID-19 as a last-minute event.”

This was a very similar case to that in Pennsylvania, where Roberts sided with liberals, resulting in a 4-4 tie. That decision allowed ballots that arrive after Election Day in Pennsylvania to be counted.

The difference between the Pennsylvania and Wisconsin cases, as Roberts explained, is how they arrived to the Supreme Court.

Courts are often very reluctant to change election rules very close to Election Day. In Pennsylvania, the change was already in place to extend the deadline, while in Wisconsin, it was not. As Roberts explained:

“This case (Wisconsin) involves federal intrusions on state lawmaking processes,” while the case in Pennsylvania “implicated the authority of state courts to apply their own constitutions.”

Liberals challenging the rules said without the deadline extended, “mass disenfranchisement of Wisconsin voters would ensue.”

Republicans, meanwhile, took the opposite stance. In court filings, they wrote:

“Wisconsin law gives voters who may experience some mailing delays multiple avenues to cast their ballots — including two weeks of in-person absentee voting — more avenues than are available in most other states.”

Wisconsin is likely to be one of the battleground states in next week’s presidential election, so every decision leading up to that time can prove to have big consequences.

Writing for the three dissenting justices, Elena Kagan said extending the voting deadline in Wisconsin “would prevent the state from throwing away the votes of people actively participating” in the process.

“Protecting the right to vote in a health crisis outweighs conforming to a deadline in safer days,” she wrote.

Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh said the state made many changes to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, including sending mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters, providing drop boxes to submit ballots instead of mailing them in, and allowing extended time to vote.

As such, they wrote:

“Elections must end sometime, a single deadline provides clear notices, and requiring ballots to be in by election day puts all voters on the same footing.”