MADISON, Wis. (CN) – Wisconsin voters will have extra time to register to vote before spring elections, a federal judge ordered in a lawsuit from liberals seeking to change certain election rules in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.
A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Elections Commission clarified Monday morning that although U.S. District Judge William Conley’s late Friday order extends online voter registration to March 30, it did not set a deadline for when the registration portal needs to be reopened.
The commission continued in a statement Monday morning that “we are working now to comply with the court’s order and reopen online voter registration as soon as we can make and test the changes to our systems.”
“This is not as simple as reposting an online form,” the commission noted. “With the election underway, we need to be very careful to test this change to ensure it does not adversely affect other functions, including absentee ballot requests. We will update the public and local election officials as soon as we know when MyVote Wisconsin will be ready.”
The rush to postpone and suspend certain election procedures in Wisconsin began when the Democratic National Committee and the Wisconsin Democratic Party sued the six members of the state’s bipartisan elections commission last Wednesday, an extraordinary step taken due to the global coronavirus pandemic bringing governments and societies around the world to a screeching halt.
Wisconsin’s confirmed cases of the virus, known as Covid-19, jumped to nearly 400 over the weekend, and the virus has caused four deaths around the state.
In order to combat stay-at-home orders and unparalleled disruptions caused by the pandemic, the Democrats asked the court to extend the online voter registration deadline, extend the deadline for receiving by-mail absentee ballots, and suspend the requirements for voters’ photo identification and proof of residence documents to cast an absentee ballot and register to vote, respectively.
Taking in the full scope of the crisis, Conley, a Barack Obama appointee, chose late Friday to only grant the Democrats’ request to extend online voter registration for now.
The judge’s 21-page order stated “the court cannot help but take judicial notice of the excruciating dilemma that will soon be faced by eligible voters who did not register by the March 18, 2020 deadline: either venture into public spaces, contrary to public directives and health guidelines, or stay at home and lose the opportunity to vote.”
Conley respected the elections commission’s point that it is not as easy as just flipping a switch from off to on, but he ultimately found “a short extension of the registration deadline would on its face appear to impose only a minimal burden while potentially affording a great number of as yet unregistered voters the opportunity to exercise their franchise by safely voting absentee.”
“The court understands that this is far from a perfect solution,” Conley admitted. The judge went on to posit that “the ideal solution under the circumstances would probably be to delay the vote itself, as some other states have already done,” while conceding that it is not up to the commission or the courts to do that.
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, has been reluctant to postpone the April 7 primary election whole cloth, as certain positions up for election would take office at the end of April and could be rendered vacant during a global health crisis should the election be delayed.
Conley declined to grant the Democrats’ other two requests with Friday’s order, although he left the door open to extending the absentee ballot receipt deadline at a later date. The judge was not convinced the Democrats would have success on the merits of their plea to restrict rules outlining photo identification and proof of residence requirements for casting absentee ballots and registering to vote.
Badger State Republicans have condemned the Democrats’ lawsuit as an attempt to manipulate the novel coronavirus pandemic and the chaos it has created to change election laws midstream for their own benefit.
On Sunday, the Republican National Committee and Wisconsin Republican Party filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit, arguing Democrats are only attempting to help themselves.
The motion, filed on Republicans’ behalf by Patrick Strawbridge with the Boston office of nationwide firm Consovoy & McCarthy, claimed the changes to election rules would “undercut democratically enacted laws that protect voters and candidates” and “threaten to confuse voters and undermine confidence in the electoral process.”
Conley has not indicated whether he will allow the lawmakers to intervene in the suit.