Photo by Saiyna Bashir, The Capital Times

Green Bay has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to force the state to cancel in-person voting for the April 7 election and instead allow clerks to mail ballots to all registered voters, as a way to fight coronavirus.

The city is also asking a federal judge to give local clerks until June 2 to count all returned ballots.

Local officials and others have repeatedly called for the state to delay the April 7 election or provide other means for voters to cast ballots in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Gov. Tony Evers has countered voters should request absentee ballots to avoid going to the polls.

The suit charges the refusal of Evers and the Wisconsin Elections Commission to change the date of the election or the method of voting “endangers not only the public health, but also the legitimacy of that same election process.” 

Keeping the current process in place exposes municipal employees to members of the public for in-person registration and absentee voting “despite mandates from state officials and health care practitioners to socially distance and to prevent contact with others as much as possible,” the suit says.

Along with canceling in-person voting April 7 and allowing ballots be mailed, the suit seeks to:

*extend the deadline to register to vote electronically or by mail to May 1. A federal judge in a separate suit filed by state and national Dems has already pushed back the deadline to register electronically to March 30 after it had previously been March 18.

*cancel in-person registration and absentee voting.

Currently, absentee ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted. The state and national Dem parties have already asked in their suit to extend the deadline to count absentee ballots. The judge denied the request, but indicated Dems could raise the issue again if they had evidence the step was needed. 

As of yesterday morning, local clerks had received 554,116 absentee applications. That’s more than double the 249,503 requested for the spring 2016 election, which also included a presidential primary.

According to the suit, Green Bay was already dealing with a backlog of more than 4,000 absentee ballots as of Friday.

Meanwhile, only 54 of the city’s 278 poll workers have agreed to work April 7. Of those, only 11 are chief inspectors, who must be present at each polling location.

The suit notes there is a global message to employ social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19, but that conflicts with the message of proceeding with the election under current methods.

“The only reasonable message from the State of Wisconsin should also be to socially distance,” the suit argues. “Not to socially distance unless you want to vote. Not to socially distance unless you are young. Not to socially distance unless you care about democracy. It needs to be to socially distance. Full stop.”

Read the motion here.


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