Wisconsin Heads to the Polls After Dramatic Day

[Image via nytimes]

The State of Wisconsin will conduct its primary today, despite coronavirus fears, after efforts to cancel in-person voting and extend absentee balloting were rejected in court. The Journal-Sentinel has the story:

Wisconsin voters will head to the polls Tuesday after Gov. Tony Evers failed to shut down Tuesday’s election in a historic last-minute move that was swiftly rejected by the conservative majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The spring election will take place with polls opening at 7 a.m. statewide in the face of a warning from the state’s top health official who said voting in person will “without question” lead to more illness and death as coronavirus spreads through the state.

Six chaotic hours on Monday during which state leaders fought in court over whether to hold the election ended with a U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring all absentee ballots to be postmarked by Tuesday, reversing a federal judge’s order to extend absentee voting by a week and forcing thousands who hadn’t yet received their ballots to vote in person or not at all.

Two court cases – one in state court and one at the U.S. Supreme Court – determined the parameters of today’s vote:

Evers issued an executive order Monday afternoon — 18 hours before polls were set to open — to bar in-person voting as a massive shortage of poll workers prompted some election officials to reduce polling locations, including in Milwaukee which will have just five instead of 180.

But the state’s highest court reinstated the election within hours, capping off nearly six hours of confusion as election officials told clerks to continue preparing for an election because they did not know whether the polls would open Tuesday.

A little over an hour later, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a second blow to the Democratic governor by tightening limits on which absentee ballots can be counted. Under that 5-4 order, voters will have to mail back their absentee ballots by Tuesday, go to the polls that day or give up their opportunity to vote.

The Wisconsin Election Commission cautioned local officials during the day yesterday to continue preparing for in-person voting as the courts considered the delay – and their caution was warranted. Still, local officials were deeply angry about the uncertainty:

“I am so frustrated with our entire state leadership right now I can barely stand it,” Carey Danen, De Pere’s city clerk, said before the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s ruling. “They don’t realize the stress they’ve put us under with all of this back and forth.”

A record 1.3 million Wisconsin voters requested absentee ballots by Monday but 43% of the voters who made requests hadn’t yet returned ballots, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

Ballots hadn’t even been mailed yet to more than 11,000 voters by clerks facing a task never seen before as they managed more absentee voting than ever before while also losing workers over fears of coronavirus infection.

Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe said at an emergency meeting late Monday that figure could be fewer because the number of ballots that haven’t been mailed rely on reporting by local clerks.

A number of voters also have reached out to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in recent days saying they requested absentee ballots up to three weeks ago and still have not received them. Some say clerks have told them there’s no record of the request.

Wisconsin’s experience largely mirrored that of Ohio’s before the March 17 primary, where an initial determination to press ahead was halted just before polls opened because of coronavirus fears. But unlike Ohio, Wisconsin will have to open the doors (in limited numbers) for in-person voting and trust that absentee voters will find a way to get their ballots in the mail by tonight. It’s a terrible strain on Badger State election officials at the state and local level, who will do their best to conduct an election in extremely difficult conditions – and a difficult choice for voters.

Godspeed, Wisconsin.

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