Gov. Tony Evers, who has in the past suggested he doesn’t have the power to change tomorrow’s spring election date on his own, today issued an executive order pushing back in-person voting to June 9 to avoid exposing voters and poll workers to COVID-19.
The Legislature’s top Republicans said they planned to immediately appeal the move to the state Supreme Court. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, called it an unconstitutional overreach.
Evers’ move comes after GOP lawmakers rejected his last-minute request to meet in special session to conduct the spring election by mail and push back deadlines to May to request and receive an absentee ballot.
It also comes amid a flurry of federal court action impacting the spring election and growing attention nationally to the possibility of Wisconsin moving forward with its election amid a growing public health emergency.
In a statement, Evers bemoaned GOP lawmakers declining to act on his request.
“But as municipalities are consolidating polling locations, and absent legislative or court action, I cannot in good conscience stand by and do nothing,” Evers said. “The bottom line is that I have an obligation to keep people safe, and that’s why I signed this executive order today.”
The guv’s office said ballots already cast will remain valid and be tallied in conjunction with the new in-person voting date.
Fitzgerald and Vos said local clerks should “stand ready” to proceed with the election.
“This is another last minute flip-flop from the governor on the April 7th election,” the Republicans said. “The governor himself has repeatedly acknowledged he can’t move the election. Just last week a federal judge said he did not have the power to cancel the election and Governor Evers doesn’t either. Governor Evers can’t unilaterally run the state.”
Evers’ order sets the June 9 date unless “the Legislature passes and the Governor approves a different date for in-person voting.” In the interim, voters can continue asking for absentee ballots until 5 p.m. on the fifth day immediately preceding the new in-person election date.
The order also includes a call for a special session to begin at 2 p.m. tomorrow for the Legislature to take up legislation setting a new in-person voting date.
In the first weeks of the pandemic, Evers repeatedly said he wanted to move forward with the original date for the spring election because of the hundreds of local offices on the ballot. With the terms for many of those offices expiring in the weeks after the spring election, he raised concerns about possibly leaving them vacant during a public health crisis.
In today’s order, Evers extends the terms for those currently in office until results of the spring election results are finalized. Those who win terms in the spring election would still see them expire as if there had been no delay in the election.
While Evers and others have said in the past he didn’t have the authority to move the date on his own, the guv’s order cites the Wisconsin Constitution and state statute in making the move.
The statute cited gives the power during an emergency to “Issue such orders as he or she deems necessary for the security of persons and property.”
Not long after the guv’s order, Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe sent a message to local clerks that “we must continue” to make preparations to go through with tomorrow’s vote, citing fast-moving legal action.
“If the election is moved to the 9th we will adjust accordingly, but all we can do today is prepare for tomorrow,” Wolfe wrote.