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Federal appellate judges uphold Wisconsin absentee ballot extension
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Federal appellate judges uphold Wisconsin absentee ballot extension

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A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld a six-day extension for counting absentee ballots in Wisconsin’s presidential election, handing Democrats a victory in their fight to deliver the key battleground state for Joe Biden in November.

The decision, if it stands, means that ballots postmarked on or before Nov. 3 will be counted as long as they are received by Nov. 9. That could mean the winner in Wisconsin won’t be known for days after the polls close. Republicans are likely to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The decision came just two days after the appeals court put the lower court’s ruling granting the extension on hold. The appeals court vacated that ruling, saying Republicans who sued did not have standing. The court gave Republicans one week to argue why the case should not be dismissed.

The Republican National Committee, state GOP and Wisconsin Republican legislators argued against the deadline extension. Their attorney, as well as GOP legislative leaders, did not immediately return messages.

Federal judge extends Wisconsin's absentee ballot deadline until week after election

Absentee ballots are normally due in local clerks’ offices by 8 p.m. on Election Day to count. But the Democratic National Committee, the state Democratic Party and allied groups including the League of Women Voters sued to extend the deadline after the April presidential primary saw long lines, fewer polling places, a shortage of workers and thousands of ballots mailed days after the election.

U.S. District Judge William Conley ruled Sept. 21 that ballots that arrive up to six days after Election Day will count as long as they’re postmarked by Election Day. State election officials anticipate as many as 2 million people will cast absentee ballots to avoid the possibility of catching the coronavirus at the polls. That would be three times more absentee ballots than any other previous election and could overwhelm both election officials and the postal service, Conley wrote.

As of Tuesday, nearly 1.2 million absentee ballots had been requested and more than 308,000 had been returned.

Republicans argued on appeal that the current absentee voting rules be left in place, saying people have plenty of time to obtain and return their ballots.

Conley on Sept. 21 also extended the state’s deadline for registering by mail or electronically by seven days, from Oct. 14 to Oct. 21 and declared that poll workers can work in any county, not just where they live. Clerks have reported fears of the virus caused shortages of poll workers in both Wisconsin’s spring presidential primary and state primary in August. Loosening the residency requirements could make it easier to fill slots.

The 7th Circuit upheld both of those rulings as well.

Trump won Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point — fewer than 23,000 votes — in 2016 and the state figures to be a key battleground again in 2020. Polls show Biden with a slight lead but both sides expect a tight race.

Follow the Wisconsin State Journal's 2020 presidential election coverage

The candidates for the Nov. 3 election have accepted their party nominations. Who will win the key battleground state of Wisconsin?

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Community organizers in Milwaukee have shifted their voter outreach programs to focus on mail-in absentee ballot education.

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The poll also found former Vice President Joe Biden widening his lead over President Donald Trump in the state and a declining concern among Wisconsinites over the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Perceptions of whether or not the president delivered on the promises he made during his 2016 campaign differ drastically along party lines.

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The latest poll's results come as Wisconsin faces unprecedented unemployment numbers, which have risen sharply following state efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by shutting down some businesses or limiting services at others.

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Sen. Bernie Sanders, who won the state four years ago, was still in the race when the polls closed last Tuesday, but he suspended his campaign the following day — nearly a week before results would be reported. On Monday, he endorsed Joe Biden.

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Organizers are searching for ways to empower voters in communities of color and low-income areas that saw a decrease in turnout during the 2016 general election. 

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All other major candidates in the race received between 9 and 17% support.

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In the general election, President Donald Trump faces a tight race against the Democratic field in Wisconsin.

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UW-Madison's Elections Research Center plans to launch a new poll to complement the Marquette Law School Poll.

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