A federal judge has extended the deadline for mail-in ballots to be counted in Wisconsin for up to six days after the Nov. 3 election.

Judge William Conley issued the order on Monday, Sept. 21, in response to a lawsuit from the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Party of Wisconsin and several nonprofit groups. The lawsuit sought to change a number of state voting laws because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the ruling, clerks across the state can accept ballots until Nov. 9, as long as they are mailed and postmarked on or before Election Day. The ruling knocks down a state law that requires ballots to be in the possession of local election officials by 8 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted.

Other changes approved in Conley's order include:

  • Extending the deadline for online and mail-in voter registration to Oct. 21. The previous deadline was Oct. 14.
  • Lifting a ban on replacement ballots only being sent by mail. Under the order, voters will be able to access a replacement ballot online or by email if theirs never arrived after they requested it. The window for making online or email requests will be Oct. 22-29.
  • Lifting a requirement that people must live in the county where they want to serve as a poll worker.
Newsletter signup for email alerts

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin lauded the ruling on Monday afternoon, saying it will allow more people to vote.

"We welcome the court’s decision to expand voting in Wisconsin so that more voters have the opportunity to register and have their voices heard in this election," said party spokesperson Courtney Beyer.

The lawsuit also sought to temporarily lift Wisconsin's voter ID law for mail-in ballots, as well as the state's requirement to provide proof of residence for online or mailed voter registration. Conley did not grant those requests.

However, Conley directed the state MyVote and WisVote websites to inform voters about what it means to identify as an "indefinitely confined" voter on a mail-in ballot, which allows that voter to bypass the photo ID requirement. Conley ordered the websites to include language approved by the Wisconsin Elections Commission earlier this year that reiterated state law "does not require permanent or total inability to travel outside of the residence" for a person to be classified as "indefinitely confined." Under the guidance, people who are confined in their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic would be able to label themselves as "indefinitely confined."

Conley issued a similar order in April, before the presidential primary, extending deadlines for voters to request absentee ballots and for clerks to receive them. That lawsuit had sought to delay the April 7 election because of the pandemic.

Monday's ruling could be appealed to a higher court. In the April case, an appeal to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court upheld much of Conley's decision.

Andew Hitt, chair of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, which was a defendant in the lawsuit, said the party is "reviewing the order and working with the other parties in the case to determine our next steps."

Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard locally on 91.3 KUWS-FM and at wpr.org.

Wisconsin Public Radio, Copyright 2020, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.