Wisconsin’s elections are still on tomorrow after a last second back-and-forth between Governor Tony Evers and Republican lawmakers.
Earlier today, with Wisconsin’s presidential primary less than twenty-four hours away, Governor Tony Evers issued an executive order suspending in-person voting in the state.
“We expect more cases [of COVID-19], we expect more deaths, [and] we expect more tragedy,” Evers said. “With that in mind, I cannot in good conscience allow any types of gathering that would further the spread of this disease and to put more lives at risk. I have been advised by public health experts at the Department of Health Services that despite the heroic efforts and good work of our local election officials, poll workers, and National Guard troops, there’s not a sufficiently safe way to administer in-person voting tomorrow.”
The order was set to move the election to June 9, unless the Republican-led legislature decided on a different election date during a special session tomorrow.
Just last week, Evers said he believed he couldn’t delay the election without violating state law, but said his position changed as polling places consolidated and the U.S. Surgeon General described the upcoming week as, QUOTE, “our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment.”
“Circumstances have changed,” said Evers. “Clearly, anyone that can do basic math understands that if you have fewer places to serve voters that you’ll have larger numbers at those sites, numbers that will easily strain the system and, frankly, cause more negative results for people that are there. So, I believe that this falls under my [constitutional] ability to make sure that the security of the people of Wisconsin, which I do have obligations to maintain, is taken into account and that’s why I’m doing this today.”
At least nine mayors across Wisconsin, including Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, signed a letter sent to Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm yesterday, calling on the Secretary to stop tomorrow’s in-person election.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald immediately challenged the order in Wisconsin Supreme Court, which has a Republican majority. Governor Evers said this afternoon he thought the state Supreme Court would side with him.
“There’s a possibility we can lose this case, [but] I don’t believe we will,” Evers said.
But, this afternoon, the Supreme Court ruled that Evers could not postpone tomorrow’s election.
Prior to that decision, the Wisconsin Elections Commission instructed local election officials, like Madison Deputy City Clerk Jim Verbick, to continue to plan for an election tomorrow.
“Today’s the last day when we’re doing our deliveries of our equipment to our polling places, so we’re just wrapping up getting everything set for voting tomorrow if it is happening,” Verbick says. “We’re asking all of our poll workers not to change any of their plans yet as we’re sort of in this wait-and-see [period] since it’s pretty likely that there’s going to be a court challenge to this.”
Verbick also says that the Clerk’s Office has received a number of absentee ballots that are missing a witness’s signature.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Conley ruled that clerks could count absentee ballots lacking a witness signature if they included a written reason about why a witness wasn’t available, but the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision on Friday.
Those voters who’ve sent in an unwitnessed ballot don’t have many options to make sure their vote counts. In fact, Verbick says, these voters would have to vote in person.
“[We’ve been advising voters] to go to their polling places on election day [so] they can cast their ballots in person,” says Verbick. “So then, when we have our canvas, the canvas will see that they voted in person and then they’ll reject the absentee ballot that does not have the witness signature. Unfortunately, that’s really the only remedy that a voter would have.”
According to Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, the Madison Clerk’s Office has sent out just over 87,00 absentee ballots, but has received a little more than half of those ballots back.
Voters who received absentee ballots will have until 4:00 p.m. on April 13th to return their ballots to their local clerk’s office.
Polling places across Wisconsin have been consolidated due to lack of staffing. The City of Waukesha has consolidated its polling locations from fifteen to one voting location, the City of Milwaukee has consolidated from 182 to five locations.
If you’re planning to head to the polls tomorrow, check myvote.wi.gov to see if your polling place has stayed the same.