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Wisconsin court overturns governor’s attempt to delay Tuesday’s election

Polling sites consolidated as workers said they’d stay home

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers sought to delay Tuesday's elections, including the state’s presidential primary, but the state Supreme Court blocked him.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers sought to delay Tuesday's elections, including the state’s presidential primary, but the state Supreme Court blocked him. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ last-minute attempt to delay in-person voting in Tuesday’s elections was overturned Monday evening by the state’s Supreme Court, which said the vote — which includes a hotly contested race for one of its justices — must go on as planned.

Republicans who control the state Legislature sued after Evers, a Democrat who previously said he did not have the power to delay the vote, issued an order to do just that Monday afternoon. Voting is scheduled for Wisconsin’s presidential primary and elections for the state Supreme Court and local offices. It’s the only April election in the country that has not been delayed or changed to all-mail amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I could not in good conscience allow any type of gathering that would further the spread of this disease and put more lives at risk,” Evers said Monday in a video press conference explaining his plan to delay in-person voting until June 9. “There is no sufficiently safe way to administer in-person voting tomorrow.”

Evers’ order called the Legislature into session on Tuesday to address the election, but he tried that on Saturday as well, and the session was adjourned within minutes with no action.

Republican state House and Senate leaders said in a statement after Evers issued his order that election officials should plan to hold the election Tuesday as planned. They pointed out that Evers previously said he does not have the legal authority to move the election.

“The governor’s executive order is clearly an unconstitutional overreach,” state House Speaker Robin Vos and state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a statement. “Governor Evers can’t unilaterally run the state.”

Conservative justices have a 5-2 majority on the state Supreme Court, according to The Associated Press. The justice on the ballot tomorrow recused himself from the 4-2 ruling that the vote must go on.

Some Democrats have argued that a low-turnout election, such as one where voters feared going to the polls to avoid disease, would favor the conservative candidate.

“They either don’t mind putting voters at risk, or they believe voters will be scared to show up and that low turnout will benefit their unqualified candidate,” Maria Cardona, a longtime Democratic strategist who co-chairs the Democratic National Committee’s rules and bylaws committee for the party’s 2020 convention, wrote in The Hill.

Evers said the situation in the state had changed drastically in the past two weeks, causing him to reassess his previous commitment to moving ahead with the election. Death rates have continued to rise, and municipal polling places have been forced to consolidate to account for poll workers who told election officials they were going to stay at home.

As of Monday afternoon, voters were still learning of last-minute changes to polling locations, and some voters had not received absentee ballots they had requested.

Meagan Wolfe, the administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission and the state’s chief elections official, pleaded for patience during a call with reporters Monday.

“We all are doing this for the first time,” she said. “Poll workers are doing this for the first time. Our whole country is doing this for the first time.”

The state has already seen a surge in voters wanting to vote by mail. On Wednesday, the Wisconsin Elections Commission announced it had received more than 1 million requests for absentee ballots, a record high.

Karen Hobart, president of Common Cause, on Thursday told reporters she had concerns about stringent requirements to request absentee ballots, a shortage of poll workers, a shortage of supplies such as envelopes to send absentee ballots to voters, and the possibility that voters would not be able to return ballots by the deadline.

At the time of the press call, the deadline to return ballots was 8 p.m. on Election Day. But later on Thursday, a federal judge extended that deadline to April 13.

“What we have is a state ill-equipped to deal with the election and more has to be done,” Hobart said.

Evers said he had not made a decision about whether to proceed with a special election in the 7th District to fill the House seat open since the September resignation of former GOP Rep. Sean P. Duffy. That contest is scheduled for May 12.

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