Wisconsin's Spring Election Is On. Here's A Look At The Back & Forth
Updated Tuesday at 12:08 p.m. CT
Tuesday is election day in Wisconsin, due to an order from the state Supreme Court.
Less than 24 hours before the April 7 election was scheduled to begin, Gov. Tony Evers called off the election and postponed in-person voting to June 9. But, Monday, the state Supreme Court ruled 4-2 that Evers lacked the authority to do so.
And, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that absentee ballots need to be submitted in person or postmarked by April 7 to be counted. The order overturns an earlier decision made by U.S. District Judge William Conley, which allowed absentee ballots to be turned in as late as 4 p.m. on April 13 — six days after the election.
Evers said more Wisconsinites would likely contract the novel coronavirus if in-person voting proceeds. As of Monday afternoon, the state Department of Health Services reported 2,440 positive cases and more than 75 deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
“We expect more cases, we expect more deaths, we expect more tragedies,” Evers said in a press call Monday, shortly after announcing the executive order.
Evers was reluctant to postpone in-person voting until late last week, when he called a special session to change to a mail-in only election. Republicans who control the Legislature rejected Evers’ request.
"We expect more cases, we expect more deaths, we expect more tragedies." - Gov. Tony Evers
Evers said he changed his mind about in-person voting because of the increase in COVID-19 confirmed cases and the fact that municipalities were being forced to consolidate polling places due to election worker shortages.
>>Not sure if your polling place has moved? Look it up here.
In Milwaukee, election officials consolidated the usual 180 voting locations to just five — Riverside High School, Marshall High School, South Division High School, Washington High School, and Hamilton High School.
Completed absentee ballots in a certificate envelope can also be dropped off at these Milwaukee locations: Zablocki Library, Bay View Library, Washington Park Library, Mill Road Library, and the Frank P. Zeidler Municipal Building.
"We are hosting a community gathering at a voting center amidst a pandemic," Neil Albrecht, who heads the City of Milwaukee Election Commission, said Monday night.
The top Republicans in the Legislature — Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald — were the ones who challenged Evers’ executive order in the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In a statement, the lawmakers called the order “an unconstitutional overreach.”
The Wisconsin Elections Commission discussed the two court rulings at length Monday night. Chairperson Dean Knudsen, a Republican appointee, said Tuesday isn’t the first time voters will have to head the polls in difficult circumstances.
“It’s very important in our system of representative democracy that citizens have a right to choose their representatives — especially during a crisis. Even in times of war and pandemic worse that the current crisis, we still go the polls and vote for our leaders," he said.
Democratic Party appointee Mark Thomsen took issue with the wartime comparison.
"World War II — people could go vote. People would go serve. My father-in-law served. He fought the Nazis. But you could go without fear of dying at your own polling place, or getting ill, or getting someone else ill," he said.
Thomsen said 12,000 people who want to vote may have to go the polls because they haven’t received their requested absentee ballots yet in the mail. However, the commission said that number may be smaller if county clerks have been delayed in marking down the number of ballots sent out.
Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe said about 1,900 Wisconsin National Guard members have been trained and will serve as poll workers Tuesday, with another 500 in reserve. She said all the polling places that are open will be staffed.
"As of now, we have not received notice of any place that has an outstanding vacancy or critical shortage in terms of poll workers because of the generous assistance of the National Guard," she said.
Wolfe added additional Guard members may be sent to the polls Tuesday if the need arises, and most will work in their own county, but some could be sent to neighboring counties. And all municipalities in Milwaukee County are getting the Guard personnel they requested, she said.
Commission members urge voters at the polls today to stay 6 feet apart, and practice hand hygiene before and after voting.
This election will be like none other Wisconsin has experienced.
As voters grapple with the decision whether to head to their local polling stations, there will be no late night anticipation of which candidate will win. The polls close at 8 p.m. Tuesday, but results won’t be announced until April 13.
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