Wisconsin Supreme Court and SCOTUS Step in to Decide Fate of the Badger State's Primary Election

Posted: Apr 06, 2020 8:49 PM
Wisconsin Supreme Court and SCOTUS Step in to Decide Fate of the Badger State's Primary Election

Source: AP Photo/Scott Bauer

The Wisconsin State Supreme Court on Monday overturned Gov. Tony Evers' (D) executive order postponing Tuesday's primary election until June 9th amid concerns over the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus. The Court ruled 4-2 against Evers, saying Tuesday's primary election most move forward, including in-person voting.

The motion was brought about by Republican lawmakers.

"The state’s highest court has spoken: the governor can’t unilaterally move the date of the election," Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said in a joint statement. "We are proud that Wisconsinites have come together to meet the challenges that this pandemic has created. The safety and health of our citizens have always been our highest concern; that’s why we advocated for everyone to vote absentee. Wisconsin has responded in droves. Over a million ballots have been requested for tomorrow’s election. We continue to believe that citizens should be able to exercise their right to vote at the polls on Election Day, should they choose to do so."

Part of Evers' order was to extend absentee voting until June 9th. He wanted all absentee and vote-by-mail ballots mailed between now and then counted. A lower court didn't completely agree with his timeframe and instead ordered that absentee voting had to be extended until April 13th, giving voters extra time to mail in their ballots.

The United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4, saying absentee ballots that are postmarked after the primary date cannot be accepted and counted. 

“Extending the date by which ballots may be cast by voters — not just received by the municipal clerks but cast by voters — for an additional six days after the scheduled election day fundamentally alters the nature of the election,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote for the majority, The Hill reported. “The court would prefer not to do so, but 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."

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg penned the dissent on behalf of the liberal justices, saying the lower court worked to protect voter access during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.

The district court, acting in view of the dramatically evolving COVID–19 pandemic, entered a preliminary injunction to safeguard the availability of absentee voting in Wisconsin’s spring election,” Ginsburg wrote. “This court now intervenes at the eleventh hour to prevent voters who have timely requested absentee ballots from casting their votes.”

Even though these last-minute decisions may be confusing for Badger State voters, nothing has changed. In-person voting is still taking place on Tuesday. All absentee ballots have to be postmarked by tomorrow's date in order to be counted.