MADISON, Wis. - A federal judge on Thursday declined to postpone Wisconsin's presidential primary over the health threat from the new coronavirus, but he ordered that people be given an extra six days beyond Tuesday's election for absentee voting.
U.S. District Judge William Conley had signaled in a court hearing earlier this week that he was uncomfortable overruling the state's decision to move ahead with the election. His ruling grants a partial victory to liberal groups who argued that thousands of voters might be disenfranchised due to the overwhelming demand for absentee ballots.
The deadline for voters to get absentee ballots to local clerks had been 8 p.m. on Tuesday, but Conley's order shifted that to 4 p.m. on April 13. Conley also extended the deadline for voters to request ballots by a day to 5 p.m. this Friday.
Conley also lifted a witness requirement for absentee ballot applications, writing that voters can provide a written affirmation that they could not safely obtain a witness signature due to coronavirus fears.
While several states have postponed elections or shifted to all mail, Wisconsin's Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Republican leaders have been committed to Wisconsin's date. They argued there's no guarantee conditions will improve in a couple of months and postponing the election risks leaving many local offices unfilled for an extended period.
Evers' position on the election has shifted over the last few weeks. At the outset of the outbreak he said he thought the election should go on, a stance that drew considerable criticism from Democratic allies. As it became clear that Evers lacks authority to change election law he asked the Republican-controlled Legislature to mail absentee ballots to all registered voters, a request the GOP rejected. On Wednesday he said for the first time that if he could move the election he would.
The leaders' insistence to keep the original date came despite pleas and lawsuits from municipal leaders around the state who said they would not be able to fully staff in-person voting sites due to poll workers' fears of the virus.