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GOP weighs next move in ballot battle

Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 1, 2020

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — Republicans spent much of Wednesday talking with attorneys about their legal options after a federal appeals court rejected the latest challenge to a court-ordered extension of Wisconsin’s absentee ballot deadline. 

“We are evaluating with our attorneys what the next step is. Clearly this is an issue that we take very seriously, and we intend to not let this die,” Mark Jefferson, executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin told Empower Wisconsin. 

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday morning refused to do what the GOP had requested: consult with the Wisconsin Supreme Court. State Republican lawmakers argued the court misinterpreted a Supreme Court ruling it used in its opinion that legislators lacked standing in their lawsuit. The appeals court effectively upheld a lower court’s ruling that allows absentee ballots received by Nov. 9 to be counted — if they are postmarked by Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3. U.S. District Court Judge William Conley’s order also extended by one week the voter registration deadline via mail or online, to Oct. 21. 

“Think of all the problems this ruling creates,” Jefferson said, pointing to Wisconsin’s spring election when thousands of absentee ballots without postmarks flowed in after the day of the election. Nearly 23,000 votes cast by mail were rejected because they arrived late or were not properly complected, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission. 

“I don’t think that situation is in the best inters of voters,” the RPW executive added. 

Also troubling, Republicans say, is the federal appeals court’s refusal to consult with the state’s highest court about Wisconsin election law. The conservative-led court  “would be very surprised, to put it mildly, to learn of this misunderstanding of its careful, narrow decision,” an attorney for the GOP wrote in a motion.

With less than five weeks before the election, the party litigation war is being fought fast and furiously. But time is quickly running out. 

“Once you get to this point before the election, that’s when courts start to push back a little bit and say they’re not comfortable hearing this (in an abridged time window). We’re in that zone right now,” said Ryan Owens, director of the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership and a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of political science. 

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