Photo by Saiyna Bashir, The Capital Times

A federal judge expressed doubts that voters who wait until the state-imposed deadline to request absentee ballots will be able to return them by Election Day as required under Wisconsin law.

Still, Judge William Conley peppered lawyers during a hearing Wednesday over whether he should order relief for voters to avoid those who ask for their ballots close to Election Day to end up not having them count.

Several groups have filed lawsuits seeking changes to how the November election is conducted, particularly with a record number expected to cast absentee ballots. During today’s hearing on the suits, Conley noted the state deadline to request an absentee ballot is five days before the election.

With the issues the U.S. Postal Service has had delivering mail promptly, among other things, it’s unlikely someone who waited until the statutorily-imposed deadline will be able to return their ballot in time.

“Even the best scenarios of three to four days gets you to six to eight days by the ballot returns, and it’s just not going to happen,” Conley said, walking through the time it likely will take to mail a ballot and then mail it back.

Throughout today’s hearing, Conley asked the parties about various relief he could grant, including allowing absentee ballots that are postmarked by Election Day to count even if they’re received after the normal deadline. He ordered a similar change for the April election, which saw some 1.1 million absentee ballots cast, a record.

But Misha Tseytlin, representing the state Legislature, countered at best Conley should order the Elections Commission to undertake a publicity campaign to encourage voters seeking to vote absentee to request and return them well ahead of Nov. 3.

Tseytlin argued voters who don’t feel comfortable voting in person this fall should be counted on to take reasonable efforts to request an absentee ballot in plenty of time to return it by the deadline, which is 8 p.m. on Election Day.

“If you don’t feel comfortable (voting in person), then by all means do it early. That’s reasonable effort,” Tseytlin said.

Conley expressed skepticism that a PR campaign would be successful in reaching voters who may wait until the last minute to request an absentee ballot.

“I’m not sure how they reach the very voters you need to reach, which are those who are not registered and don’t have a history of absentee voting,” Conley said.

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