BREAKING: Wisconsin Election is Still on for Tuesday After Gov. Evers Tries to Postpone It

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth

UPDATE, PART 3: By a vote of 4-2 late Monday afternoon, the Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected an executive order from Gov. Tony Evers, which would have suspended in-person voting in Tuesday’s election and rescheduled it for June 9. The state Legislature’s Republican leaders had objected to the order, and the conservative majority on the state’s high court agreed. Barring any more legal surprises, the polls will open at 7am Tuesday despite the coronavirus pandemic. Here is some more background on what led to the dispute from political news site TheHill.com:

The in-person voting tomorrow will be dogged by coronavirus fears, as well as severe polling and polling worker shortages.

In Milwaukee, which has a population of nearly 600,000, only between six and 12 polling stations are scheduled to be open, compared to 180 during the 2016 election.

Officials are worried that the polling place crunch will lead to longer lines and bigger crowds, which cuts against warnings from public health officials to avoid gathering in public.

In addition, the high demand for absentee ballots is straining the public election system.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission has received requests for more than 1.2 million absentee ballots. About 725,000 have been mailed back so far.

County clerks are struggling to get all of the absentee ballots out to those who have requested them and they're working around the clock to count the new ones that have been sent back.

In the Chippewa Valley, voting will now go ahead as planned, with a variety of health safeguards in place, as described in this video.

UPDATE, PART 2: As promised, the Republican legislative leaders appealed to the state Supreme Court. Here is their lawyers’ memo in favor of a temporary injunction against the governor’s order, while the state Department of Justice’s response defending the executive order can be read here.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to the full text of the executive order. Among other things, the order states that “no Wisconsinite should ever have to choose between exercising their constitutional right to vote and being safe, secure, and healthy.”

The Republican leaders of the state Legislature, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, have swiftly responded to the executive order, saying they would immediately appeal to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and that the order was an “unconstitutional overreach.” In other words, this is far from over.

ORIGINAL POST: So that April 7 election we’ve been talking about, requesting absentee ballots for, and worrying about the safety of? Apparently, it’s not going to happen — at least not when it was originally planned. Just before 1pm today, Gov. Tony Evers announced an executive order “suspending in-person voting for the April 7 spring election, (and) moving in-person voting to June 9.” In his order, Evers (a Democrat) also called the Republican-led state Legislature into a special session on Tuesday — a.k.a. what would have been Election Day. In a press release, Evers’ office said that if the Legislature doesn’t enact a bill changing the election date, “in-person voting will occur on June 9.”

“Today, I signed an executive order suspending in-person voting for tomorrow’s election,” Evers said. “Frankly, there’s no good answer to this problem — I wish it were easy. I have been asking everyone to do their part to help keep our families, our neighbors, and our communities safe, and I had hoped that the Legislature would do its part — just as the rest of us are — to help keep people healthy and safe. But as municipalities are consolidating polling locations, and absent legislative or court action, I cannot in good conscience stand by and do nothing. The bottom line is that I have an obligation to keep people safe, and that’s why I signed this executive order today.”

If you’ve already cast an absentee ballot, don’t worry: Those “will remain valid and will be tallied in conjunction with the new in-person voting date,” Evers’ office said.

Whether and how to hold Wisconsin’s spring election has been the subject of political back and forth since the coronavirus pandemic began. As the Associated Press explained, “Evers, a Democrat, had previously opposed moving Tuesday’s election. But he’s pushing to delay it until June 9 amid criticism about how in-person voting can proceed safely at a time when public health officials are discouraging groups of people from gathering to avoid spread of the virus. Some poll sites have already closed because nervous volunteers are unwilling to staff them.” 

On Friday, Evers had called for a special legislative session (which would have occurred Saturday) to pass a bill allowing an all-mail election, but lawmakers didn’t act. Undoubtedly, there will be swift reaction to Evers’ latest move, so we’ll keep an eye on it and update this post accordingly as the story progresses.