Judge extends deadline for Wisconsin residents to register to vote electronically

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A federal judge late Friday granted an emergency request by Wisconsin Democrats to extend the deadline for people to register to vote electronically to March 30 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Wisconsin law had imposed a deadline of March 18.

The ruling is a partial win for the Democratic National Committee and Wisconsin Democrats who sought the extension because of the pandemic. They had asked for an extension for both electronic and by-mail voter registration until April 3.

But the judge granted only the extension for electronic registration, and shortened it to March 30.

“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,” wrote District Judge William M. Conley of the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

Conley did not, however, grant other requests made by the Democrats, including the blocking of a requirement that new voter registration include copies of proof of residency or the requirement that absentee voters include copies of voter identification with absentee ballot requests.

The judge denied those requests for now, leaving open the possibility that they could be dealt with down the road with additional briefing.

“I am glad that the judge extended the online voter registration deadline until March 30,” said Marc Elias, a lawyer for the Democrats.

“While it is sad that Republicans sought to intervene to oppose these common sense solutions, we will continue to fight for the rights of voters in Wisconsin and around the country,” he said.

In granting the Democrats a partial victory, the judge said he “recognizes the state’s interest in the orderly administration of its elections” but he stressed that 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.”

He said that while he was “sensitive to the fact that last-minute changes to election laws may generate confusion,” he felt that because of the coronavirus “it is apparent that some accommodation is necessary to preserve citizens’ right to vote amidst this unprecedented health crisis.”

Wisconsin elections commissioners had opposed the Democrats’ request, arguing that the “risks of changing election law within weeks of the election” would lead to voter confusion and an “inability to ensure these changes are effectuated statewide.”