MADISON, Wis. – A federal appeals court refused Friday to block extended absentee voting deadlines for Wisconsin's presidential primary, allowing voters to continue turning in ballots for six days beyond Tuesday's election.
U.S. District Judge William Conley on Thursday ordered absentee voting deadlines extended from Election Day on Tuesday to April 13, in effect extending the election by six days.
Republicans asked the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stay that decision while they pursue an appeal, but the court refused to grant the stay in a four-page order Friday evening. The order didn't offer any justification or explanation.
A number of states have delayed their spring elections as the coronavirus sweeps across the country, but Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Republican legislative leaders haven't been able to reach a consensus on changes to Wisconsin's election.
Democrats and a host of liberal groups filed three lawsuits demanding Conley postpone the election, extended absentee ballot filing deadlines and lift requirements that absentee voters supply photo IDs and obtain witness signatures.
Attorneys for the Republican National Committee, state Republican Party and Republican legislators turned immediately to the 7th Circuit, arguing that Conley's decision violates core principles that judges shouldn't change the rules in ongoing elections, allows people to vote after Election Day and renders the witness requirement meaningless, opening the door to voter fraud.
The 7th Circuit did stay Conley's decision to exempt absentee voters from the witness signature requirement, saying the judge didn't consider that lifting the mandate might open the door to fraud.
The appellate court's rulings marked another turn in a what's becoming a bitter fight over whether to continue with Wisconsin's primary.
Republicans brushed off Evers' call Friday to meet in special session to delay the primary and shift to mail-only, saying the election should continue as planned. Evers wanted the session to begin this afternoon and for lawmakers to take up bills that would allow clerks to mail absentee ballots to voters who haven't requested one by May 19 and give voters until May 26 to return them.
Evers said at the beginning of the outbreak that the election should go on as scheduled even amid a stay-at-home order and Republican legislators agreed. On Friday, they accused him of waffling under pressure from liberal groups.
The primary comes as Joe Biden holds a commanding lead over Bernie Sanders but hasn't formally clinched the Democratic nomination. Tuesday's election also features hundreds of races for local office as well as a Wisconsin Supreme Court seat.
President Donald Trump took time out from Friday's briefing on the coronavirus to claim without evidence that the push to delay the election was to hurt a conservative he endorsed, state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly, and not because of the coronavirus pandemic. Kelly faces liberal-backed Jill Karofsky for a 10-year term.