Wisconsinites can register online to vote until March 30 after a federal judge late Friday granted a request from Democrats to extend the deadline as demand for absentee voting surges due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The order from Judge William Conley pushes back a previous March 18 deadline for online registration, allowing those in the state who may want to vote absentee but don’t want to register in-person to be able to do so.
“It is apparent that some accommodation is necessary to preserve citizens’ right to vote amidst this unprecedented public health crisis,” Conley wrote in his filing.
Conley denied all other requests from the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Party of Wisconsin, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which were to extend the March 18 deadline for mail-in registration, waive certain voter ID and proof-of-residency requirements, and extend the absentee ballot receipt deadline. The DNC and Democratic Party of Wisconsin filed their lawsuit against the Wisconsin Elections Commission Wednesday.
In a filing submitted before Conley’s order, a Department of Justice attorney representing the Elections Commission said extending deadlines just weeks before the election would create voter confusion.
The Republican National Committee and Wisconsin Republican Party are seeking to intervene in the lawsuit. While the deadline to register to vote online is March 30, the deadline for most voters to request an absentee ballot is April 2.
Demand for absentee ballots for the April 7 statewide election has now eclipsed demand in all of the last four spring elections as the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic threatens to keep voters from the polls on Election Day.
Local elections officials in the state have so far issued at least 348,706 absentee ballots, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, a figure easily surpassing the absentee figure from the last presidential primary and Supreme Court election in 2016, when 249,503 absentee ballots were issued. Wisconsin officials are encouraging voters to cast their ballots absentee to reduce crowding at polling places, which could put voters and poll workers at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
On Friday, the mayors of Green Bay, Appleton and Neenah called on the state to delay the April 7 election and conduct an all mail-in election due to concerns over the new coronavirus.
In a letter to Gov. Tony Evers on Friday, Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe underscored the immense challenges of conducting the April 7 election, writing that “local election officials do not have access to the people or supplies needed.”
Earlier in the week, elections commissioners met and are requesting Evers help them secure hand sanitizer, poll workers and access to public health officials to help in planning the election.