Wild Weekend in Wisconsin as Partisan Fight Intensifies over April 7 Primary

[Image via reuters]

Wisconsin’s April 7 primary is still on as scheduled after an eventful weekend that included an unusually brief special session of the legislature, a lawsuit that reached the U.S. Supreme Court and intense partisan rhetoric over the wisdom of holding in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Chicago Tribune has the story on the special session:

For the last decade, Wisconsin’s state government has been dominated by a bitter partisan divide, but for weeks Evers, a Democrat, and the Republicans in the state legislature had agreed on one thing — voters should head to the polls Tuesday.

That changed late Friday when Evers reversed course, saying he now opposed in-person voting on Tuesday, and called state lawmakers to Madison for an emergency legislative session late Saturday afternoon. The governor asked legislators to vote to shutter polling places, mail every voter in the state a ballot by May 19 and extend the deadline for local clerks to receive those ballots until May 26.

Evers’ proposal effectively would delay the election by more than a month.

“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 to do our part too,” the first-term governor said. “I am calling the legislature into a special session to do its part — just as all of us are — to help keep our neighbors, our families and our communities safe.”

Republicans showed up on Saturday, gaveled the legislature into session for just seconds before adjourning without taking up the governor’s proposal. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, slammed Evers for “flip-flopping” on the election, painting him as a “feckless” leader who “caves under political pressures from national liberal special interest groups.”

“Hundreds of thousands of workers are going to their jobs every day, serving in essential roles in our society,” the Republican leaders said in a statement. “There’s no question that an election is just as important as getting take-out food.”

Part of the underlying issue is the fact that Wisconsin’s primary involves a full slate of state and local offices, including a hotly-contested seat on the state Supreme Court, which raises the partisan stakes on who will (and won’t) vote depending on the primary’s timing and circumstances.

To that end, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in federal court and won a ruling that extends absentee balloting and gives voters almost a week to return ballots by mail – a decision that received support from a federal appeals court and is now before SCOTUS. The Hill has more:

Democrats are asking the Supreme Court to deny a request from Republicans to block extended absentee voting in Wisconsin ahead of the state’s Tuesday primary. 

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin and the Democratic National Committee on Sunday formally submitted a request calling on the nation’s highest court to reject the GOP’s appeal, which was filed on Saturday in response to a lower court’s ruling to extend absentee voting in the state to April 13.

Democrats in their filing Sunday argued in part that a stay on the lower court’s decision could “exacerbate the unfolding COVID-19 public health disaster.”

“Thousands will be disenfranchised” should the state not go through with collection of absentee ballots after the deadline, Democrats added in their court filing.

The request to the Supreme Court comes as state Republicans have accused Democrats of causing “chaos” in the state’s primary elections by making repeated requests to change the rules due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

“During the past couple of weeks, Democrats have repeatedly asked courts to change our election laws and created chaos in our democratic process. While the courts have repeatedly rejected nearly all of their demands, the district court in Wisconsin has allowed absentee ballots to be collected even past the April 7th election, which is a relief that the plaintiffs never even requested,” GOP state chairman Andrew Hitt said in a statement on Saturday.

“We have asked the United States Supreme Court to grant an emergency stay to prevent voting after election day, which dramatically changes our election laws on the eve of an election,” he continued.

Democrats argue that the changes are necessary to prevent thousands of state residents from being disenfranchised during the election due to the state’s inability to staff many polling locations and concerns about public gatherings amid the virus’s spread.

The situation in Wisconsin is remarkably fluid, and in many ways resembles the same last-minute scramble that characterized Ohio’s March 17 primary postponement. Medical professionals and several mayors are pleading with the state to forgo in-person voting because of the virus, but for the time being localities have been doing their best to plan for it despite pollworker shortages and related polling place closings. This weekend’s fights have, if possible, only increased the uncertainty over tomorrow’s election. Today should bring some clarity about the parameters for tomorrow’s vote, if it happens, but the fight – over both the rules for the primary and the legitimacy of the results – is certain to continue. Stay tuned …

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