Voting rights groups and the state and national Democratic parties had sued to extend the deadline.
District Court of Appeals disallowed it and SCOTUS upholds that ruling.
Wisconsin cannot count mail ballots that arrive well after the polls close under an order issued Monday by the Supreme Court, a defeat for Democrats in a battleground state.
By a vote of 5-3, the justices declined to lift a lower court ruling preventing the state from counting mail ballots that arrive as much as six days after Election Day. Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan said they would have granted the request.
Voting rights groups, the state and national Democratic parties and the League of Women Voters sued seeking to extend the deadline to accept mail-in ballots. They said the flood of absentee ballots and problems arising from the coronavirus pandemic make it harder for voters to receive their mail ballots and return them on time. Wisconsin has been especially hard hit by Covid-19, with hospitals filled nearly to capacity.
U.S. District Judge William Conley agreed and ordered the state to accept ballots that arrive up to six days after Election Day, provided they are postmarked before the polls close. But the 7th U.S. Circuit 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.
Courts are typically reluctant to change the rules as Election Day gets closer, but in asking the Supreme Court to lift the appeals court stay, the Wisconsin groups said there was no risk of confusing voters by 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 argued.
Without relief from the Supreme Court, the groups said, “mass disenfranchisement of Wisconsin voters would ensue.” Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, sided with the challengers.