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Political Parties In Wisconsin Push For Voters To Turn In Their Ballots On Time

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Wisconsin is a key swing state, and it's also a COVID-19 hot spot. Officials have pushed voting by mail for safety reasons. But earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a request to extend the deadline for absentee ballots to arrive via mail. Now any ballot that doesn't arrive by poll-closing time on Tuesday will not be counted. That's left campaigns and advocacy groups scrambling. We're joined by Maayan Silver of member station WUWM, who's been following this.

What does this week's decision mean for absentee voters in Wisconsin?

MAAYAN SILVER, BYLINE: Well, plenty of people have actually already voted, more than 1.5 million ballots cast up until now. That's 50% of the turnout in 2016. But election officials have been telling people their ballots need to arrive by Election Day to be counted and that the U.S. Postal Service says it can take up to seven days to return. So Pastor Greg Lewis of non-partisan Souls to the Polls that works in predominantly Black communities says they've been using social media, calling and texting to let people know they shouldn't mail in ballots at this point.

GREG LEWIS: Do not mail those absentee ballots, please. We need to scream it at the top of our lungs on the mountaintops, everywhere. Go in, vote in person or drop them off in a drop-off box.

SILVER: Remember; this is a state that's been decided by less than 1 percentage point in three of the last five presidential elections. And Donald Trump won in 2016 by fewer than 23,000 votes.

CORNISH: We've been hearing for months Democrats saying to voters that they need to make a plan to vote, talking about absentee votes. Did this week's Supreme Court decision blow all of that up?

SILVER: Well, Democrats say they saw this decision coming. An earlier court ruling had already set the deadline for 8 p.m. on Election Day. And like you said, Democrats have been pushing absentee voting since the beginning of the pandemic. But the head of the Wisconsin Democrats, Ben Wikler, points out hundreds of thousands of people still have their absentee ballots sitting on kitchen counters and nightstands. He says Democrats need to do everything they can to get them to return them.

BEN WIKLER: For these next six days, we are pulling out all the stops. We are phone-banking. We're text-banking. We're friend-banking. We are drawing chalk murals on the sidewalk. We're pulling banners with planes over Milwaukee. We have sound trucks in cities across the state.

SILVER: Wikler says they're aware of people who've requested ballots and haven't returned them and which ones are the likely Democratic voters. He says basically, the smallest gust of wind can help Democrats right now.

CORNISH: Republicans cheered the Supreme Court decision, and I imagine there are plenty of GOP voters, though, who plan to vote by mail. How is the party dealing with this development?

SILVER: A lot of Republicans have said they'll be voting on Election Day. But Wisconsin currently has the fourth highest per capita number of COVID cases in the country, and there's unchecked spread in rural areas as well that lean Republican. Fond du Lac GOP chair Rohn Bishop has been urging his voters to vote absentee for months, and he's even taken on the Democrats' slogan of, make a plan to vote. But he's not sure if it's been enough.

ROHN BISHOP: My fear was that with the president's comments on mail-in balloting, that we would scare Republican voters away from voting by mail and that there would be a spike and a surge in COVID just in time for Election Day. And that's exactly what is happening in Wisconsin.

SILVER: So, you know, Rohn Bishop - he says he supports the ruling, saying it's good to know results on election night. He also says people had plenty of time to send in mail-in ballots.

CORNISH: That's Maayan Silver of member station WUWM.

Thank you for your reporting.

SILVER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF UWE SCHULZE SONG, "APOLLO11-THE MISSION-1969") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.