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The effort to schedule a special congressional election in Wisconsin is creating a challenge for the governor’s office, as a crowded election calendar and and a lack of fit between state and federal law limit the available options. The Journal-Sentinel has more:
The special election to fill a congressional seat in northern Wisconsin is likely to be moved back by months.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers plans to take the unusual step of changing the date of the special election because state and federal law conflict with each other over the issue.
Under the plan, the special election will likely be held in April or May instead of January, according to Evers’ office.
The change in date could cause headaches — at least in the short term — for candidates, clerks and voters.
The initial plan for a quick special election had to change to follow federal law (the MOVE Act) requiring sufficient time for military and overseas voters to cast their ballots:
Last week Evers ordered a special election to be held Jan. 27 to replace Sean Duffy, the Wausau Republican who resigned from Congress because his wife is about to have a baby with severe health problems.
Evers set the primary for Dec. 30 — in keeping with a state law that requires primaries to be held 28 days before special elections.
But that election schedule runs afoul of a federal law that requires military and overseas voters to be able to obtain absentee ballots at least 45 days before any election — including a primary — for federal office.
Plans to update the election date are also running into a crowded spring 2020 election calendar:
Evers plans to issue an executive order soon that would rescind the election schedule he set last week and establish a new one, according to Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff.
Evers has not yet finalized the new schedule, but his aides are in talks on the issue with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
Aides to Evers are focused on two possibilities for the new schedule.
Under one scenario, the primary would be held Feb. 4 and the general election would be held April 7. That would mean the special election would be held the same day as Wisconsin’s presidential primary and regular spring election for state Supreme Court and local offices. Under that schedule, the congressional primary would be held two weeks before the primary for Supreme Court and local offices.
Under the second schedule being considered for the special election, the primary would be held Feb. 18 and the general election would be held May 5. That would mean the congressional and Supreme Court primary were on the same day, but the general elections would be held at different times.
Those dates, too, must ensure time for military and overseas voters:
Evers doesn’t have the option of having the special primary and special election on the same dates as the spring primary and spring general election, according to his office. That’s because there would not be enough time to certify the primary results and have general election ballots available on the timeline required by federal law for federal offices…
Whoever wins the special election will have to run again in the fall of 2020 if he or she wants to stay in office.
The scheduling problem is the result of a conflict between state and federal law that has been identified but not yet fixed for federal special elections:
Congress in 2009 amended a long-standing law to give military and overseas voters more time to obtain absentee ballots. Wisconsin legislators in 2011 responded to the updated federal law by moving the primary in fall elections from September to August.
But they didn’t fix the schedule for special elections, creating the conflict between state and federal law over when primaries in those elections must be held. State lawmakers have been aware of the problem for years but haven’t addressed it.
The election to find Duffy’s replacement is the first time the issue has arisen since the federal law changed. The special elections that have been held in recent years were for local and state offices, which don’t have to follow the same rules that elections for federal candidates do.
This story is a reminder that while the MOVE Act is now 10 years old, its requirements (which are designed to protect military and overseas voters worldwide) still impose constraints on states’ scheduling of elections – and can be challenging with special elections, which create time crunches of their own. If nothing else, Wisconsin’s already busy 2020 calendar is about to get a little more so. Stay tuned …