Wisconsin's state legislature refused to take up a proposal to cancel in-person voting for Tuesday's primary, one day after Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, called for delaying the contest and abruptly convened a special legislative session on the issue, amid the intensifying coronavirus pandemic.
Leaders of the state's Republican-controlled legislature - which has the power to reschedule Tuesday's primary - rebuffed Evers's appeal in the hasty session. The clash marked the latest twist in Wisconsin's election preparations as the outbreak tightened its grip on the U.S. health care system, economy and presidential contest.
Officials across Wisconsin said they would have to shutter hundreds of voting locations to contend with a mass shortage of poll workers and struggled through the weekend to distribute sanitizing supplies to city and town election administrators. Earlier in the week, state election administrators said that 111 cities and towns would not have enough poll workers on hand to operate a single voting location. Other localities consolidated dramatically; in Milwaukee, officials said just five polling places would open Tuesday, compared to the usual 180.
As the threat of chaos and infection grew, Evers issued his surprise reversal on Friday, April 3, urging state lawmakers to cancel in-person voting Tuesday and convened the special session. He called on the legislature to send mail-in ballots to every registered voter by May 19 and extend the receipt deadline for completed ballots to May 26.
In a video posted to Facebook Friday, Evers said "my hands are tied" and that he could not move the election or change the rules on his own, even as health officials predicted a surge of new infections in Wisconsin over the first two weeks of April.
"Here's the bottom line folks: if, as elected officials, we're going to expect the people of our state to make sacrifices to keep all of us safe, then, by golly, we better be willing do our part, too," Evers said.
The state's Republican leadership was quick to come out in opposition. In a statement Friday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald charged Evers with flip-flopping and said that when it comes to essential services, "an election is just as important as getting take-out food."
"Our Republic must continue to function, and the many local government positions on the ballot must be filled so that municipalities can swiftly respond to the crisis at hand," Vos and Fitzgerald wrote. "We continue to support what Governor Evers has supported for weeks: the election should continue as planned on Tuesday."
GOP lawmakers reserved the option of taking up the issue Monday, but Republican leaders have made clear they want to go forward with Tuesday's contests.
Also Friday, a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals declined a GOP request to block a lower-court judge's ruling the day before to extend the receipt deadline for absentee ballots from April 7 to April 13. The appeal panel agreed with the GOP, however, to block a different part of U.S. District Judge William Conley's decision, which would have lifted a requirement that mail-in voters obtain a witness signature for their ballot if they included a statement that they were unable to find one safely.
After the 7th Circuit ruling was issued, Vos and Fitzgerald promised to appeal to the Supreme Court.
This article was written by Amy Gardner and Rachel Siegel, reporters for The Washington Post.