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COVID-19 Wisconsin Update #31 (4-7-20 AM)

Wisconsin April 7th Spring Election Moves Forward

Just before 1:00 PM on Monday (April 6th), Gov. Tony Evers signed Executive Order #74, suspending in-person voting for the April 7 spring election, moving in-person voting to June 9, 2020. The order also directs the Legislature to meet in special session on Tues., April 7, 2020 to address the election date. If the Legislature does not enact legislation to change the new election date, in-person voting will occur on June 9, 2020. All ballots already cast in the 2020 Spring election will remain valid and will be tallied in conjunction with the new in-person voting date. Executive Order #74 is available here.

In signing the Executive Order, Governor Evers released the following statement;

“Today, I signed an executive order suspending in-person voting for tomorrow’s election. Frankly, there’s no good answer to this problem—I wish it were easy. I have been asking everyone to do their part to help keep our families, our neighbors, and our communities safe, and I had hoped that the Legislature would do its part—just as the rest of us are—to help keep people healthy and safe,” said Gov. Evers. “But as municipalities are consolidating polling locations, and absent legislative or court action, I cannot in good conscience stand by and do nothing. The bottom line is that I have an obligation to keep people safe, and that’s why I signed this executive order today.”

Following the Executive Order, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) released the following statement:

“We are immediately challenging this executive order in the Wisconsin State Supreme Court.

“The clerks of this state should stand ready to proceed with the election. The governor’s executive order is clearly an unconstitutional overreach.

“This is another last minute flip-flop from the governor on the April 7th election. 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.”

Attorneys for the Legislature argued to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in requesting the court stop the Governor’s Executive Order and declare it unlawful;

“This case involves an invasion by the Executive into the Legislative arena: setting the time, place, and manner of elections, as well as the terms of local officials. Prompt resolution of this legal dispute is categorically within the public interest because the Governor’s action significantly interferes with an ongoing election and will disenfranchise countless voters. And this case presents questions of statutory and constitutional interpretation, which do not require fact-finding by this Court.”

Just before 3:00 PM the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Legislature on a 4-2 vote in not moving the Election date, with Justice Dan Kelly, who is up for election on April 7th, not participating. The portion of the Executive Order which allows the Governor to call the Legislature into Special Session at 2:00 PM to act upon legislation setting a new in-person voting date for the 2020 Spring election remained active, however, since the Election is moving forward that call is no longer relevant.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the provisions of Executive Order No. 74 are hereby enjoined in their entirety, with the sole exception of the provision bearing the number 2 on page four of Executive Order No. 74, which “[r]equire[s] the convening of a special session of the Legislature at the Capitol in the City of Madison, to commence at 2:00 p.m. on April 7, 2020, solely to consider and act upon legislation to set a new in-person voting date for the 2020 Spring election”;

Governor Evers released the following statement following the Supreme Court’s ruling:

“There are few things we hold more sacred and that are more American than the right to vote. 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. 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.”

Speaker Vos and Majority Leader Fitzgerald released the following statement on the Supreme Court’s ruling;

“We agree with the state Supreme Court’s ruling that affirms the separation of powers spelled out in our Constitution. The state’s highest court has spoken: the governor can’t unilaterally move the date of the election.

“We are proud that Wisconsinites have come together to meet the challenges that this pandemic has created. The safety and health of our citizens have always been our highest concern; that’s why we advocated for everyone to vote absentee. Wisconsin has responded in droves. Over a million ballots have been requested for tomorrow’s election. We continue to believe that citizens should be able to exercise their right to vote at the polls on Election Day, should they choose to do so.

“We want to thank the hardworking clerks around the state who have been working around the clock to ensure a safe and fair election. We also appreciate the assistance of the National Guard members who have been activated to play an important support role.

“This election will proceed as planned.”

In addition to the action by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the US Supreme Court also weighed in on actions related to the Wisconsin’s April 7th Spring Election.  The Supreme Court clarified in their order that in order for an absentee ballot to be counted in this year’s April 7th Spring Election, a voter’s absentee ballot must either;

  1. postmarked by election day, April 7, 2020, and received by April 13, 2020, at 4:00 p.m., or
  2. hand-delivered as provided under state law by April 7, 2020, at 8:00 p.m.

Of note in the Supreme Court’s opinion were the following points:

  • In this Court, all agree that the deadline for the municipal clerks to receive absentee ballots has been extended from Tuesday, April 7, to Monday, April 13. That extension, which is not challenged in this Court, has afforded Wisconsin voters several extra days in which to mail their absentee ballots. The sole question before the Court is whether absentee ballots now must be mailed and postmarked by election day, Tuesday, April 7, as state law would necessarily require, or instead may be mailed and postmarked after election day, so long as they are received by Monday, April 13.
  • … five days before the scheduled election, the District Court unilaterally ordered that absentee ballots mailed and postmarked after election day, April 7, still be counted so long as they are received by April 13. Extending the date by which ballots may be cast by voters—not just received by the municipal clerks but cast by voters— for an additional six days after the scheduled election day fundamentally alters the nature of the election.
  • The unusual nature of the District Court’s order allowing ballots to be mailed and postmarked after election day is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that the District Court had to issue a subsequent order enjoining the public release of any election results for six days after election day. In doing so, the District Court in essence enjoined nonparties to this lawsuit. It is highly questionable, moreover, that this attempt to suppress disclosure of the election results for six days after election day would work.
  • … the dissent’s rhetoric is entirely misplaced and completely overlooks the fact that the deadline for receiving ballots was already extended to accommodate Wisconsin voters, from April 7 to April 13. Again, that extension has the effect of extending the date for a voter to mail the ballot from, in effect, Saturday, April 4, to Tuesday, April 7. That extension was designed to ensure that the voters of Wisconsin can cast their ballots and have their votes count. That is the relief that the plaintiffs actually requested in their preliminary injunction motions. The District Court on its own ordered yet an additional extension, which would allow voters to mail their ballots after election day, which is extraordinary relief and would fundamentally alter the nature of the election by allowing voting for six additional days after the election.

In her dissent to the majority’s opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote;

  • The majority of this Court declares that this case presents a “narrow, technical question.” Ante, at 1. That is wrong. The question here is whether tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens can vote safely in the midst of a pandemic. Under the District Court’s order, they would be able to do so. Even if they receive their absentee ballot in the days immediately following election day, they could return it. With the majority’s stay in place, that will not be possible

In the light of today’s court rulings, the Wisconsin Election Commission released the following reminders for Wisconsin voters for April 7th:

  1. Voters with absentee ballots must return them or mail them on Election Day.
  2. Because of poll worker shortages, your polling place may have changed due to consolidation.  Before heading out to vote, please double-check your polling location at wi.gov. Click “Find My Polling Place.”
  3. Wash your hands before heading to your polling place on Election Day.  Hand hygiene is essential for a safe voting experience for everyone at the polls. Also, wash or sanitize your hands again when arriving at your polling place and before voting. A 70% alcohol spray solution will be available at most polling places.
  4. Things will look different at your polling place.  Social distancing and public health related changes have been made to each polling place for this election.
  5. Please be patient when voting at the polls.  The public health procedures being used will slow down some parts of the process when you have to interact with poll workers.
  6. You may be asked to line up outside your polling place or voting area to ensure only a safe number of voters are in the voting area at one time.
  7. Social distancing is essential even at your polling place on Election Day.  There will be procedures in place to allow for six feet between voters and poll workers to ensure a safe voting experience for everyone.
  8. Please keep your face-to-face interactions brief with both poll workers and other voters.  We want to limit the risk for everyone in the process on Election Day.
  9. If you are ill and still need to vote on Election Day, curbside voting options are available.
  10. If you received an absentee ballot, you can return it at your polling place on Election Day if you have not yet returned it to your municipal clerk’s office.

Wisconsin National Guard mobilized to help on Election Day

More than 2,400 Citizen Soldiers and Airmen from the Wisconsin National Guard mobilized to state active duty Sunday and stand ready to serve as poll workers in Wisconsin’s election, if needed.

Guard members completed Wisconsin Elections Commission-provided training for poll workers and other roles at a polling station. WEC developed a series of training videos for chief inspectors, election inspectors, voter registration and new roles like helping with line management and polling station hygiene. The training takes two-to-three hours to complete

The Wisconsin National Guard also assisted the WEC in the weeks and days leading up to the election by procuring and distributing items necessary to ensure safe and sanitary polling sites around the state such as hand sanitizer, wipes, spray bottles, and more. (link to release)

Governor Evers holds COVID-19 Briefing and Media Availability

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers was joined by Secretary-designee Andrea Palm, DHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard, and Ryan Nilsestuen, Chief Legal Counsel in the Office of the Governor for their Monday media briefing on the status of COVID-19 pandemic and Wisconsin’s reaction.

The Governor began his remarks with a discussion of his reasoning for signing Executive Order #74 (discussed above) in moving the Spring Election date.

Secretary-designee Palm opened her remarks with the reasoning behind recommending to the Governor that the election be postponed. She noted that in-person voting would without question increase the transmission of COVID-19 in the community.

Secretary Palm also released updated case numbers for the state of Wisconsin, but reminded in her remarks that these numbers represent real people who are battling or have succumbed to the virus and the people, families and communities that have been impacted;

  • 173 new positive cases (2,440 total for the pandemic in Wisconsin)
  • 44 new hospitalizations (668 total hospitalizations- represents 28% of those who have tested positive)
  • 77 deaths (up 9 from Sunday’s report of 68 deaths)
  • 26,574 negative test results (25,169 negative test results were reported on Sunday)

Secretary Palm alslo noted that Wisconsin has 12 active labs running COVID-19 tests, increasing the number of tests that could be conducted each day to nearly 3,600.

Video of the briefing can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Esli3blev7w&feature=youtu.be

Updated DHS testing numbers from Monday:

Previous Wisconsin COVID-19 Updates

Previous COVID-19 Updates are archived here

Here is a comprehensive list of State of Wisconsin resources related to the public health emergency (LINK)

 

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