Block on Trump's Asylum Ban Upheld by Supreme Court
Primaries in Wisconsin were held as scheduled on April 7 after the Supreme Court declined to extend the deadline for submitting absentee ballots. This is the Supreme Court's first case that relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While it has affected voters in Wisconsin, this decision may have even broader implications for the general elections in November.
The Coronavirus is not only affecting the public health, but it is also disturbing many aspects of daily life, including the economy, employment, and elections.
Several states have issued a stay-at-home order to slow down the spread of this deadly virus, encouraging everyone to stay home and practice social distancing. Wisconsin's stay-at-home order went into effect on March 25 and will stay in place until April 24, 2020.
These measures are making it difficult for states to hold in-person elections. Many states have taken measures to postpone their primaries to allow Americans to vote safely. Alaska and Hawaii, for instance, have canceled in-person voting and stated that voting would be conducted through mail-in ballots. Other states like Georgia and Delaware postponed their primaries to a later date.
Wisconsin tried to postpone the primary election date. But these attempts were met with legal battles that went up to the Supreme Court.
Here's what happened:
Following the stay at home order, Wisconsin's governor issued an executive order postponing in-person voting and extending the deadline for absentee ballots to June. Wisconsin law allows its residents to vote by absentee ballot at their local municipal clerk's office or through the mail.
Typically, in Wisconsin, if you want to vote absentee, the clerk must receive your application no later than 5 p.m. on the Thursday before the election.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court later blocked the governor's order after Republican leaders objected.
Another lawsuit requesting a delay in the elections was also brought to the district court. The judge declined to grant the request stating it is not within his power to order a delay of the election. The federal judge, however, extended the deadline to submit absentee ballots to April 13 regardless of the postmarked date.
The federal appeals court in the 7th Circuit upheld the order. The state legislature, the Republican National Committee, and the Republican Party of Wisconsin appealed this decision to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court, by a 5-4 majority vote, reversed the lower court's ruling, stating a federal judge does not have the authority to change absentee voting procedures days before an election is expected to take place.
In Republican National Committee, et al. v. Democratic National Committee, et al., the Court took a very narrow approach by only analyzing the technical question: Can a judge delay absentee voting procedures? The court also said that this was not a question about the current COVID-19 crisis. The majority opinion specifically stated:
“The court's decision on the narrow question before the court should not be viewed as expressing an opinion on the broader question of whether to hold the election, or whether other reforms or modifications in election procedures in light of COVID-19 are appropriate."
The majority used the following rationale to reverse the lower courts' rulings:
The dissent stressed the issue is much broader. Specifically, Justice Ginsburg stated:
This ruling means voters had to drop off their ballots by 8 p.m. on Election Day or have them postmarked by that time. Those who had requested absentee ballots, but had not received them, had to either go to the polls or not exercise their right to vote.
According to Wisconsin's Election Commission, the state received 1,282,762 absentee ballot applications. Of those, only 864,750 ballots had been returned. As of April 7, the state had sent 1,273,374 absentee ballots to voters.
This decision could impact the November elections, especially if the COVID-19 pandemic is still a public health threat by then. For instance, if states do not allow voting by mail or absentee voting, courts may not have the authority to intervene to ensure citizens don't have to choose between risking their lives and exercising their right to vote.
States have made a number of changes to voting in the primaries. Any change that will come for the general elections in November is yet to be seen.