After facing national pressure, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers changed his stance and signed an executive order Monday to suspend in-person voting for Tuesday’s primary elections that were set to occur amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Evers, a Democrat, ordered that the state legislature return for a special session on Tuesday to formally change the date. If lawmakers fail to do so, Evers said the election will occur June 9.
However, the state’s conservative-leaning Supreme Court overturned the executive order by a 4-2 ruling, meaning the state’s primary contest on Tuesday will carry on as planned. The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled along its ideological split—5-4—against a previous federal judge’s ruling that gave voters an extra week for absentee ballots to be counted.
Evers blasted the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling, saying it could cost people their lives and would force people to act against the advice of public health officials to stay home and avoid crowds.
“People have bled, fought, and died for the right to vote in this country. But tomorrow in Wisconsin, thousands will wake up and have to choose between exercising their right to vote and staying healthy and safe,” the governor said in a statement. “In this time of historic crisis, it is a shame that two branches of government in this state chose to pass the buck instead of taking responsibility for the health and safety of the people we were elected to serve.”
The state’s Democratic Party chairman, Ben Wikler, said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision would “disenfranchise untold thousands of Wisconsin voters and consign an unknown number of Wisconsinites to their deaths.”
An executive order by Evers last week forced the legislature to have a special session over the weekend and recommended that the body enact new provisions to allow an all-mail election and make it easier to cast a ballot, including the act of sending a ballot to every registered voter by May 19 and extending the deadline to return them by May 26. The legislature failed to make such changes.
Evers has faced increasing resistance from the Republican-controlled legislature. Its leaders—House Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald—are “immediately challenging” Evers’ executive order to move in-person voting with the Wisconsin Supreme Court. They labeled the order “unconstitutional overreach.”
“This is another last-minute flip-flop from the governor on the April 7th election,” Vos and Fitzgerald wrote in a joint statement. “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.”
“The clerks of this should stand ready to proceed with the election,” the state lawmakers added.
More than a dozen states across the country have rescheduled primaries due to the coronavirus that’s forced extreme social distancing measures to take effect, including urging residents to remain in their homes. Evers issued a stay-at-home order last month, prohibiting non-essential business and travel.
The Democratic National Committee decided last week to push back its annual convention slated for July 13 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to August 17.
This story was updated to include information about court rulings on Monday.
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