MADISON, Wis. - A federal appeals court on Thursday blocked a decision to extend the deadline for counting absentee ballots in battleground Wisconsin, in a win for Republicans who have fought attempts to expand voting across the country.
If the ruling stands, absentee ballots will have to be delivered to Wisconsin election clerks by 8 p.m. on Election Day if they are to be counted. Results of the presidential race in the pivotal swing state would be known within hours of polls closing.
Democrats almost certainly will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Under state law, absentee ballots are due in local clerks’ offices by 8 p.m. on election night, but Democrats and allied groups sued to extend the deadline after the April presidential primary saw long lines, fewer polling places, a shortage of poll workers and thousands of ballots mailed days after the election.
U.S. District Judge William Conley ruled last month that any ballots that arrive in clerk’s offices by Nov. 9 will be counted, as long as they are postmarked by Election Day on Nov. 3.
State election officials anticipate as many as 2 million people will cast absentee ballots in November to avoid exposing themselves to the coronavirus at the polls. That would be three times more than in any previous election and could overwhelm election officials and the postal service, Conley wrote.
Republicans appealed to a three-judge panel at the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The panel upheld Conley’s ruling on Sept. 29.
Republicans then asked all 11 members of the court to review the case. The court stayed Conley's decision on Thursday.
Any development in the case could have ramifications in the presidential race. President Donald Trump won Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point — fewer than 23,000 votes — in 2016. Polls show Democratic challenger Joe Biden with a slight lead in the state, but both sides expect a tight race.