Voting rights groups in Wisconsin asked the Supreme Court on Tuesday to lift a lower-court ruling that prevents the state from counting mail-in ballots that arrive after the polls close on Election Day.
The voter groups, the state and national Democratic parties and the League of Women Voters sued to extend the deadline to accept the ballots. They said the flood of absentee ballots and problems arising from the coronavirus pandemic will make it harder for voters to receive their mail ballots and return them on time.
U.S. District Judge William Conley agreed and ordered the state to accept ballots that arrive up to six days after Election Day, as long as they are postmarked before the polls close.
But the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals blocked the order.
"A last-minute event may require a last-minute reaction. But it is not possible to describe COVID-19 as a last-minute event," the court said.
The Supreme Court is already considering a dispute over late ballots in Pennsylvania. And similar cases are pending in Arizona, Michigan and North Carolina.
Courts are typically reluctant to change the rules as Election Day gets closer, but in asking the Supreme Court to lift the appeals court's stay, the Wisconsin groups said there's no risk of voter confusion in granting their request.
"The ballots of a substantial number of voters who will follow all of Wisconsin's rules will arrive after the current receipt deadline because of conditions caused by the pandemic," they said.
Without relief from the Supreme Court, the groups said, "mass disenfranchisement of Wisconsin voters would ensue."
Before ruling, the court is likely to ask for a response from state officials and the Republican Party, who have opposed extending the ballot deadline.