Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers called the state legislature into a special session on Saturday to cancel in-person voting in Tuesday’s primary and instead switch to an all mail-in vote with an extended deadline in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In an executive order he signed Friday, Evers asked lawmakers to take up a bill to send ballots to every registered voter in the state by May 19 and extend the window for ballots to be submitted until May 26.
Evers said in a statement on Facebook Live that the number of polling locations available has been limited because of a shortage of poll workers. This has created a “dangerous situation where voters, staff and volunteers will not be able to avoid large groups or practice social distancing,” which is “a significant concern and a very unnecessary public health risk,” he said.
The executive order is the latest twist in weekslong battle between the Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled legislature over the primary. Wisconsin is a holdout as 15 states have delayed their primaries in recent weeks over fears for public health.
Evers had called on the state legislature to take several of these steps last week, asking legislators to authorize sending absentee ballots to all of Wisconsin’s 3.3 million registered voters ahead of the April 7 primary. When that was voted down on Monday and several parties submitted lawsuits, Evers on Wednesday asked a federal judge to direct the state to hold its primary through mail-in voting, but did not ask for a delay in the primary date.
The judge ruled Thursday to extend the deadline to submit absentee ballots by a week but did not authorize pushing the primary date back as some lawsuits had requested. The following day, a judge ruled that the results of the primary couldn’t be made public until a week after the vote, when the deadline for absentee ballots expires. The ruling bars clerks from releasing the count until after the April 13 deadline.
Evers declared a state of emergency in the state on March 12. Wisconsin has more than 1,800 cases of COVID-19.
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