Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order Monday ahead of Tuesday’s primary to suspend in-person voting in Wisconsin until June 9, 2020.
But just hours later, the State Supreme Court ruled against Evers' executive order in a 4-2 decision — meaning Wisconsin’s Spring Primary will go on as scheduled, even with the state’s "Safer at Home" Order in effect.
After news of Evers’ order was announced, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, immediately challenged the executive order in the Wisconsin State Supreme Court on the ground that the executive order is “unconstitutional overreach.”
Later in the evening, Vos and Fitzgerald said they were happy the election will proceed as planned.
“We agree with the state Supreme Court’s ruling that affirms the separation of powers spelled out in our Constitution,” the pair said in a joint statement. “The state’s highest court has spoken: the governor can’t unilaterally move the date of the election.”
Previously, Evers and other Republican lawmakers said they would keep polls open despite other states across the country postponing their primaries.
Incumbent Justice Daniel Kelly, who currently sits on the court, recused himself from the case Monday — in part because he is up for election Tuesday in a State Supreme Court race which has been partisan from the get go.
Kelly was appointed to his seat by former governor Scott Walker in 2016 and has previously supported — and advanced — many conservative causes. He is a member of the Federalist Society and a key figure in the Wisconsin Republican Party. Kelly has been endorsed by many high profile Republicans, most notably Pres. Donald Trump in January.
His opponent, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Jill Karofsky, has historically supported more liberal causes like environmentalism, public education and women’s rights. She previously worked as an assistant prosecutor in the Dane County district attorney’s office and as executive director of the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Office of Crime Victims Services.
Rules for the counting of absentee ballots also changed Monday. Initially, a federal court judge ruled absentee ballots could be counted until April 13 and results would not be reported until then.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday evening 5-4 in favor of the Republican challenge. Now, absentee ballots will have to be postmarked by April 7 or vote in person for their vote to count.
This was one of the many legal challenges related to this election. Several lawsuits have tried to previously postpone the April 7 date, but consolidated over the weekend. The Republican Party of Wisconsin also filed a lawsuit alleging Dane and Milwaukee County clerks provided illegal guidance to voters regarding voter ID requirements.
Both Supreme Court candidates’ intense campaigning and partisan backgrounds are contributors to the chaotic pace in deciding whether or not to continue the election.
County clerks waited to see what would happen during a chaotic Monday in Wisconsin as many still prepared for in-person voting Tuesday.
Workers in Manitowoc County watched the news for election updates, Manitowoc County Clerk Jessica Backus said.
Other counties and cities — including Milwaukee — had already closed their polling places Monday’s ruling to keep polls open supersedes a county order to close all in-person polling.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele previously expressed the need to cancel in-person voting because of the risk to public safety.
“If forced to proceed with in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic, the right to vote would be elevated above the right to life, health and safety this idea is contrary to the most basic constitutional principles,” Abele said.
Other leaders hoped to postpone the election as well.
Neenah Mayor Dean Kaufert was part of a coalition of mayors that sought to delay Tuesday’s primary. When the motion to do so failed, Kaufert asked city maintenance workers to construct Plexiglas shields to protect poll workers, according to WPR.
Evers called for a special session earlier in the week and proposed sending ballots to all registered voters. Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, rejected the move on behalf of the Assembly Republican caucus, calling it “impossible to implement.”
“[Evers’] last-minute scheme of a mail-in ballot election is logistically impossible and incredibly flawed...especially two weeks before the election with countless staffing, postal and safety considerations; our local clerks are already running out of ballots and supplies,” Vos stated.
As of Monday, 1,264,064 absentee ballots have been sent out and 724,777 have been returned. In Dane County, 178,103 ballots have been sent out and 103,090 have been returned. Wisconsin has 3.3 million registered voters. More county data can be found on the Wisconsin Elections Commission website.
Evers said in response Wisconsinites will have to choose between “exercising their right to vote and saying safe” and expressed frustration the legislature and courts decided not to act.
"In this time of historic crisis, it is a shame that two branches of government in this state chose to pass the buck instead of taking responsibility for the health and safety of the people we were elected to serve,” Evers said.
Bremen Keasey contributed to this report.
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