In a 2-1 ruling, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals said Thursday that absentee ballots in the key presidential battleground state will now, as it stands, be due by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.
It blocked U.S. District Judge William Conley’s earlier ruling which would have allowed Wisconsin officials to count absentee ballots that arrive up to six days after the presidential election. The Democratic National Committee previously argued that it would make counting ballots easier amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision to put the changes on hold until the case is fully resolved likely means that ballots arriving after Nov. 3 will be disqualified. The appellate ruling also blocked a week-long extension of the state’s online and mail-in registration deadline.
The panel agreed with Wisconsin Republican legislative leaders that it was too close to Election Day to make significant changes and that alterations were better left to elected officials, rather than the judiciary.
“If the judge had issued an order in May based on April’s experience, it could not be called untimely,” the majority wrote. “By waiting until September, however, the district court acted too close to the election.”
The decision is most likely to be appealed by Democrats to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Wisconsin, like many states nationwide, is already seeing a surge absentee voting for the upcoming election. The Wisconsin Elections Commission anticipates that as many as 2 million absentee ballots will eventually be cast in the state.
Conley argued last month that the number of absentee ballots cast could overwhelm election officials, and that the figure would be three times more than any previous election.
Wisconsin is seen as a crucial battleground state. In 2016, President Donald Trump took the state by just 0.77 percent—fewer than 23,000 votes—over then-presidential rival Hillary Clinton. Both sides expect a tight race this year.
Trump opposes a universal vote-by-mail election, arguing that it’s an invitation for fraud and opens the door to Election Day chaos due to the inefficiency of the U.S. Postal Service.
“The problem here is that many potential cases of fraud, nothing is done about them. Elected officials don’t send them to law enforcement, law enforcement doesn’t investigate them. And we know the potential cases out there is far, far larger than the proven cases we have in our database,” he said.
Circuit Judge Ilana Rovner responded to Thursday's ruling by calling it a “travesty,” and warned that “thousands” of Wisconsinites would lose their right to vote.
Andrew Hitt, chair of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, welcomed the news.