On September 21, 2020, Judge William Conley of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin issued an opinion and preliminary injunctions in four consolidated cases that will protect the rights of registered Wisconsin voters to cast their votes in the November 3, 2020 general election. Stafford Rosenbaum LLP Attorneys Jeff Mandell and Doug Poland represent plaintiffs in two of the four consolidated cases, Gear, et al. v. Bostelmann, et al., and Swenson, et al. v. Bostelmann, et al.

The federal court’s September 21 ruling provides a failsafe for voters who don’t receive their absentee ballots by mail in time to cast them for the November 3 general election. The Wisconsin Election Commission has been ordered to provide absentee ballots online and by email between October 22-29 for registered voters who requested but haven’t yet received them by mail. The Court also extended to October 21 the deadline to register to vote online and by mail, and the deadline for returning mail-in ballots to November 9, as long as they are postmarked by November 3.

Judge William Conley found that “the evidence is nearly overwhelming that the pandemic does present a unique need for relief in light of: (1) the experience during the Spring election, (2) much greater projected numbers of absentee ballot requests and votes in November, and (3) ongoing concerns about the USPS’s ability to process the delivery of absentee ballot applications and ballots timely.”

During the April 7 election, thousands of Wisconsin voters did not receive their requested mail-in absentee ballots. Before the April 2020 election, which was the first election held in Wisconsin during the pandemic, between 4-8% of Wisconsin voters typically voted in spring elections using mail-in ballots; this spring, that number jumped to 62%, representing nearly one million ballots returned. Wisconsin election officials estimate that as many as 1.8 million Wisconsin voters will request absentee ballots for the general election in November.

Stafford Rosenbaum LLP Attorneys Doug Poland and Jeff Mandell noted that the Court’s ruling will help ensure that the November 2020 election is safe and fair: “Having been on the front lines for the last several years of fighting to protect the right to vote in Wisconsin, we are pleased that the federal courts continue to protect the ability of Wisconsin voters to have a say in who governs them. The relief granted by the Court in this case will help avoid Wisconsin’s November election being beset by the same problems we saw in April, when thousands of Wisconsinites had to choose between exercising their right to vote and protecting themselves and others from risking infection with COVID-19. Today’s Court’s order will enhance democracy in Wisconsin.”

The federal court stayed enforcement of its order for seven days to permit an appeal to be taken, and the rulings are still subject to appeal, so voters should not count on these changes until a final ruling on appeal.

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