Photo by Saiyna Bashir, The Capital Times

The Wisconsin Elections Commission on Monday warned local officials they can’t shutter early voting locations ahead of the April 7 election.

The move comes after the City of Milwaukee announced it will no longer be operating its three in-person absentee voting locations, because it could “no longer maintain sufficient staffing levels to operate these sites in a manner that would ensure a safe or efficient public voting experience.”

But citing a federal court decision that struck down restrictions on early voting passed during the 2018 lame-duck session, state Elections officials told county and municipal clerks they could not decline to accommodate in-person absentee voting.

“While the statutes do not mandate specific times or a minimum number of hours where in-person absentee voting must take place, the clear intent is that electors have reasonable opportunities to exercise those rights and that clerks must offer in-person absentee voting,” the commission wrote in a memo.

The commission told local clerks municipalities can alter hours for in-person absentee voting and voter registration, move to an appointment-only process or offer curbside or drive-through in-person absentee voting.

Still, a spokesman told the commission was waiting for guidance from Gov. Tony Evers on how the “safer at home” order scheduled to go into effect tomorrow would apply to early voting.

“In the past he’s exempted elections from his orders, but it’s unclear what the new orders cover,” spokesman Reid Magney said.

The memo was released as the commission announced the number of absentee ballot requests for the April 7 election has nearly doubled from the previous high-water mark for a spring election.

As of Monday, 482,740 voters have requested to vote absentee, by far eclipsing the previous record set during the 2016 spring election of 249,503 absentee requests.

Registered voters have until April 2 to request an absentee ballot.

The deadline to use the state’s MyVote website or mail to register to vote in the spring election passed last week, but a federal judge on Friday extended the deadline to register electronically to March 30.

The commission is still working on restoring that option to the MyVote website. Magney indicated WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe was “concerned about capacity issues with the system that could be caused by adding the online registration service back into the mix.”

See the memo to clerks:

See the latest data on absentee requests:

See the City of Milwaukee announcement:

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