MADISON, Wis. – Republicans in Wisconsin stalled a move by Gov. Tony Evers to push back Tuesday’s election, quickly adjourning a special legislative session to deal with voting issues in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
With only a few lawmakers present, the Legislature on Saturday did not take up Evers’ effort to extend the election date to May 19 and convert entirely to mail-in voting.
The election features the Democratic presidential primary between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
As the Legislature made its move, the virus remained unabated. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Wisconsin has more than doubled this week, climbing to over 2,000 on Saturday.
Also Saturday, the Republican National Committee and state Republican Party asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block a judge’s ruling that would allow absentee ballots to be counted in the days after Tuesday’s election.
U.S. District Court Judge William Conley determined Thursday that absentee ballots should be counted if they are received by clerks by April 13 because tens of thousands of voters likely won’t get their absentee ballots until after Tuesday. Voters who requested ballots by the legal deadline deserve to have their votes counted, he ruled.
Conley also extended online voter registration and allowed an extra day to request absentee ballots.
Wisconsin stands apart from other states in trying to hold to its April election date even though Evers has issued a statewide stay-at-home order. It also comes as Wisconsin’s chief medical officer has credited the order for helping slow the rate of infections in the state.
The political action Saturday at the Capitol in Madison was brief.
In the Assembly, the session lasted for 17 seconds. In the Senate, it was even shorter.
Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Tyler August, the only Republican to show up in either house Saturday, refused to talk to reporters after gaveling the session to a close.
In the Senate, no Republicans made an appearance. Instead they had their appointed chief clerk, Jeff Renk, bring the Senate into session and immediately end it. Two Democrats – Jon Erpenbach and Tim Carpenter, both wearing rubber gloves – watched from the Senate floor.
Erpenbach said the Republican majority should go along with Evers and push back the election over health concerns. People will get ill if they don’t, he said.
“The math will tell you people will get sick. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a polling place or you’re in a convenience store or you’re doing pickup, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s around. I know they’ll practice social distancing and do what they possibly can to keep people safe but I don’t know how somebody won’t get sick.”
In a statement, Evers accused legislative Republicans of “playing politics with public safety and ignoring the urgency of this public health crisis.”
Republicans have said they believe clerks will be able to take enough steps to keep voters safe. They are stressing the importance of preserving a core democratic institution: the right to vote.
They also have accused the governor of trying to make changes at the last minute, after he repeatedly said that he wanted to keep in-person voting on schedule.
Contributing: Ricardo Torres and Molly Beck of the Journal Sentinel, Natalie Brophy of USA TODAY-Wisconsin, The Associated Press