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Supreme Court ruling makes it official: Absentee ballots due by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3

Supreme Court ruling makes it official: Absentee ballots due by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3

Ballot Boxes (copy)

Madison voters can drop off their absentee ballots at 14 secure ballot drop boxes outside of fire stations and at the Elver Park shelter. This box is located outside of Madison Fire Department Station #4 on Monroe Street. Ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted. 

Long before the U.S. Supreme Court declined to allow absentee ballots returned after Election Day to be counted if they were postmarked by Nov. 3, officials had advised Wisconsinites to get their votes in as soon as possible. 

As of Tuesday morning, the state Elections Commission logged 320,000 outstanding absentee ballots that had yet to be delivered to the local clerk's office, out of 1.8 million ballots sent to voters so far.

And in light of Monday's new ruling, those voters now know with certainty that the deadlines outlined in state statute are still in place this fall: absentee ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. on Election Day.  

[Voting absentee in the Nov. 3 election? Here’s what you need to know]

What did the court decide? 

In a 5-3 decision, with the bench's justices split along ideological lines, the court ruled against giving voters an extra six days to return their ballots as long as they were postmarked by Nov. 3.

A federal judge last month had decided to do just that, as well as put in place a variety of other measures extending the timeline for registering to vote online or by mail and expanding the pool of available poll workers.

But the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, after receiving assurance from the Wisconsin Supreme Court that Republican lawmakers had the standing to appeal, later reversed the decision 2-1, finding the changes would occur too close to an election.  

[Madison voters making use of 14 secure ballot drop boxes]

So what are the deadlines? 

Absentee ballots have to be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted.

Voters who have yet to return their absentee ballots can do so through Madison’s absentee ballot drop-off boxes, in-person voting sites through Nov. 1, the city clerk’s office through Nov. 2 at 4:30 p.m. and their local polling place on Nov. 3 by 8 p.m.  

What was the reaction to the ruling? 

Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt applauded the decision, saying Democratic efforts "to get the courts to rewrite Wisconsin’s election laws on the eve of an election have failed." 

"Absentee voting in Wisconsin is extremely easy and hundreds of thousands of people have done it already — last minute attempts to change election laws only cause more voter confusion and erode the integrity of our elections,” he added.  

Democratic Party head Ben Wikler emphasized the ease, accessibility and convenience of voting in Wisconsin "despite the efforts of Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and the partisan justices on the Supreme Court."

"The Democratic Party of Wisconsin will double down on making sure that every Wisconsin voter knows how to exercise their sacred right to vote in the final eight days of this election," he pledged.

How is this similar to the recent U.S. Supreme Court Pennsylvania ruling? 

The U.S. Supreme Court justices last week deadlocked 4-4 over a Pennsylvania mail-in ballot extension, an outcome that allows officials there to count ballots as long as they're postmarked by Nov. 3 and arrive up to three days after the election. 

No explanation was offered in the ruling, in which Chief Justice John Roberts broke with his conservative colleagues to side with the court's three liberal justices.

Roberts, who joined the court's conservative majority in the Wisconsin ruling, argued the latest one "presents different issues" than the Pennsylvania case.  

“While the Pennsylvania applications implicated the authority of state courts to apply their own constitutions to election regulations, this case involves federal intrusion on state lawmaking processes,” Roberts wrote. “Different bodies of law and different precedents govern these two situations and require, in these particular circumstances, that we allow the modification of election rules in Pennsylvania but not Wisconsin.”

What are the latest voting stats? 

As of Tuesday morning, nearly 1.5 million absentee ballots statewide have been returned, including 352,073 that were cast early, in-person. 

To date, the total absentee ballots cast or returned accounts for 48% of turnout in 2016. 

How does this decision differ from what happened in April? 

During the state's presidential primary election, Wisconsin's first pandemic-era contests, ballots postmarked by the day of the election were able to be counted as long as they were returned by the following Monday. 

That case, too, made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which instated the postmark requirement the day before the spring election, blocking a federal judge's ruling the prior week that effectively extended absentee voting by six days.  

At the time, justices argued that the lower court erred in changing election rules "so close to the election date," adding that allowing six more days for ballots to be cast and received "fundamentally alters the nature of the election."

While the filing said the court would prefer not to intervene at this time, "when a lower court intervenes and alters the election rules so close to the election date, our precedents indicate that this Court, as appropriate, should correct that error."

Extending the window for absentee ballots to be received and counted effectively franchised some 79,000 voters, or 7% of the total absentee ballots returned, per the Wisconsin Elections Commission.  

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Briana Reilly covers state government and politics for the Cap Times. She joined the staff in 2019, after working at WisPolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter at @briana_reilly.

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