Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg excoriated her conservative colleagues over their decision to deny Wisconsin Democrats’ request to extend the deadline for absentee voting in the state’s election on Tuesday, despite concerns over the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In a 5-4 vote on Monday, the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc refused to extend the absentee voting deadline by six days, saying instead all mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday and received by April 13. Democrats had pleaded with the courts to give more leeway to voters as COVID-19 wreaks havoc around the nation, infecting more than 366,000 people and killing more than 10,000. The nation’s top public health officials have urged Americans to practice social distancing and to remain at home as much as possible, directives that run counter to entering a crowded polling place.
Ginsburg, who was joined in her dissent by the three other liberal Justices, said her conservative colleagues’ decision to see the election proceed as planned would effectively strip many Wisconsinites of their right to vote “through no fault of their own.”
“The question here is whether tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens can vote safely in the midst of a pandemic,” Ginsburg wrote on Monday. “With the majority’s stay in place, that will not be possible. Either they will have to brave the polls, endangering their own and others’ safety. Or they will lose their right to vote, through no fault of their own.”
She continued: “That is a matter of utmost importance — to the constitutional rights of Wisconsin’s citizens, the integrity of the State’s election process, and in this most extraordinary time, the health of the Nation.”
The Wisconsin Election Commission reported Monday that 43% of the absentee ballots already requested had not yet been returned.
“While I do not doubt the good faith of my colleagues, the Court’s order, I fear, will result in massive disenfranchisement,” Ginsburg wrote. “A voter cannot deliver for postmarking a ballot she has not received. Yet tens of thousands of voters who timely requested ballots are unlikely to receive them by April 7, the Court’s postmark deadline.”
At the same time, Wisconsin’s highest court blocked another effort by Gov. Tony Evers (D) to postpone all in-person voting until June in a 4-2 decision (both liberal justices dissented). The move came just 14 hours before polls were set to open for the state’s primary election.
Ben Wikler, the head of Wisconsin’s Democratic Party, said the Court’s decision would be “etched in history” and potentially result in many deaths.
“The Supreme Court of the United States legislated from the bench today, following Trump team’s orders and writing a new election law to disenfranchise untold thousands of Wisconsin voters and consign an unknown number of Wisconsinites to their deaths,” he said in a statement.
The Supreme Court’s conservative members said such concerns had already been addressed, claiming that even in ordinary elections, absentee ballots are usually received “on the day before or day of the election.”
“The dissent’s rhetoric is entirely misplaced and completely overlooks the fact that the deadline for receiving ballots was already extended to accommodate Wisconsin voters, from April 7 to April 13,” they wrote.