Despite a last-minute attempt to delay the election, Wisconsin’s presidential primary is still set for Tuesday after a federal judge refused to postpone the contest.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge William Conley declined to postpone the election but ordered people be given an extra six days beyond Tuesday for absentee voting.
He also blasted state leaders’ decision not to delay the election to protect people’s health but refused to postpone it himself, saying a federal judge shouldn’t act as the state’s health officer.
“As much as the court would prefer that the Wisconsin Legislature and Governor consider the public health ahead of any political considerations, that does not appear in the cards. Nor is it appropriate for a federal district court to act as the state’s chief health official by taking that step for them,” Conley wrote.
The deadline for voters to get absentee ballots to local clerks had been 8 p.m. Tuesday, but Conley’s order shifted that to 4 p.m. April 13. Conley also extended the deadline for voters to request ballots by a day to 5 p.m. Friday.
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Conley also lifted a witness requirement for absentee ballot applications, writing that voters can provide a written affirmation that they could not safely obtain a witness signature due to coronavirus fears.
The Republican Party of Wisconsin said it has appealed the ruling to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, asking it to stay the order. The Republican National Committee and the party had urged Conley to allow the election to proceed as planned.
The ruling marks a partial victory for Democrats and liberal groups who argued thousands of voters might be disenfranchised because time is running out to file absentee ballots.
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The party and the groups had filed three lawsuits demanding that Conley postpone in-person voting, extend the deadlines for filing absentee ballots and lift requirements that absentee voters supply photo IDs with their ballot applications and get a witness to sign the ballot before returning it.
Several states have postponed elections or shifted to all mail in the face of the pandemic. But Evers and Republican leaders have been committed to Wisconsin’s date. They argued there’s no guarantee conditions will improve in a couple of months and postponing the election risks leaving many local offices unfilled for an extended period.
Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders on Wednesday called for the state to postpone the election. Rival Joe Biden said Thursday that it’s up to Wisconsin courts to decide what to do, but he didn’t have a problem with voting proceeding.
The Democratic National Committee has announced it is pushing back its national convention in Milwaukee from mid-July to mid-August.
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Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC