State Supreme Court Rules Wisconsin’s Election Will Go on in a Pandemic

Peter Wade

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Despite Gov. Tony Evers’ attempts to stop it in the name of public safety, the Wisconsin state primary will be held on Tuesday, the state supreme court ruled.

On Monday, citing the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the country, Evers, a Democrat, issued an executive order to delay the state primary scheduled for Tuesday until June 9 after the Republican-led legislature did not act to extend absentee voting. Evers initially planned to go ahead with the election as planned but decided to try to postpone when municipalities began closing polling places due to a shortage of willing volunteers to run them. Milwaukee, for example, which usually has 180 polling places, will now only have five. National Guard troops have also been dispatched to run polling sites.

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“I cannot in good conscience stand by and do nothing. The bottom line is that I have an obligation to keep people safe, and that’s why I signed this executive order today,” Evers said.

But Wisconsin’s state legislature challenged Evers in court, asking the state supreme court to grant an emergency restraining order to prevent the election delay. In addition to the presidential primary, thousands of local elections and a state supreme court seat are on the ballot.

In the filing, Republicans said: “The governor does not have constitutional or statutory authority to modify, suspend or otherwise alter the statutes. Nor does the governor have the constitutional or statutory authority to set the time, place and manner of elections.”

Earlier last week, Republicans also appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court Evans’ attempt to count absentee ballots received through April 13, instead saying only ballots received by Tuesday should be counted. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 late Monday in favor of the Republicans.

Democrats and voter advocates argue that moving ahead with the election in a pandemic would disenfranchise countless voters, especially minorities. But that’s what the Republicans want. In fact, it’s a tried and true Republican tactic to suppress the vote.

Before this, Wisconsin had already taken steps toward voter disenfranchisement. The state recently enacted restrictive voter ID laws requiring voters to present a current driver’s license, state ID, passport, military ID, naturalization papers or tribal ID to vote. And earlier this year, the state Election Commission attempted but failed to boot some 200,000 voters from the rolls, which would have disproportionately impacted minority voters, who tend to lean Democratic.

Now, Republicans are taking voter suppression to extremes, forcing voters to risk their health — and their family’s health — to cast a vote. As Ann Jacobs, a member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, told Slate, “People shouldn’t have to choose between their safety and their right to vote.”

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