Judge slams Wisconsin governor, lawmakers for not delaying election amid coronavirus outbreak
A federal judge on Wednesday slammed Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) and lawmakers for not delaying next Tuesday’s primary election amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“The state of Wisconsin’s Legislature and governor are not willing to step up and say there’s a public health crisis and make it absolutely clear that we should not be allowing poll workers and voters to congregate on April 7,” U.S. District Judge William Conley said near the end of a four-hour hearing, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Conley, an Obama appointee, reportedly said he did not have the power to postpone next week’s election, but he said those who filed lawsuits about the issue could come back after the election if they believed that large numbers of people were disenfranchised, the newspaper reported.
“I don’t see a basis on which I can stop this, albeit it’s a very risky decision by the state of Wisconsin,” he said.
The judge compared holding the election during the pandemic to having one during a deadly storm.
“You expect the state of Wisconsin to realize this is a hurricane and prevent (the election) and stop it for public health reasons,” he said, according to the Journal Sentinel.
Evers stood by the state’s decision to hold next week’s primary, tweeting that he can’t change it “without violating state law.”
“We have three branches of government to ensure a system of checks and balances, and questions about our elections typically rely on all three playing a role. If I could have changed the election on my own I would have, but I can’t without violating state law,” he tweeted.
“I’ve asked the legislature to do its part to ensure a fair, safe election and I hope we can get some clarity as soon as possible. The bottom line is that we have to keep folks safe and we have to make sure everyone who wants to vote has the opportunity to make their voice heard,” he added.
I’ve asked the legislature to do its part to ensure a fair, safe election and I hope we can get some clarity as soon as possible. The bottom line is that we have to keep folks safe and we have to make sure everyone who wants to vote has the opportunity to make their voice heard.
— Governor Tony Evers (@GovEvers) April 2, 2020
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin broke from Evers, issuing a statement in support of postponing the primary.
“The Democratic Party of Wisconsin endorses the call by civil rights groups & mayors across Wisconsin to postpone our April 7 election & remove barriers to safe voting by mail,” Ben Wikler, state party chair, tweeted.
NEW: The Democratic Party of Wisconsin endorses the call by civil rights groups & mayors across Wisconsin to postpone our April 7 election & remove barriers to safe voting by mail. We’re in court NOW. If judge doesn’t act, legislature must. Help us fight: https://t.co/GjN0ea1bEN
— Ben Wikler (@benwikler) April 1, 2020
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a Democratic presidential candidate, also called for the state to delay the election over the safety of voters.
“People should not be forced to put their lives on the line to vote, which is why 15 states are now following the advice of public health experts and delaying their elections. We urge Wisconsin to join them,” Sanders said in a statement Wednesday. “The state should delay Tuesday’s vote, extend early voting and work to move entirely to vote-by-mail. While we wait for a decision, we urge our supporters to vote-by-mail.”
Polling stations in Wisconsin have been forced to close due to a lack of workers, but the National Guard is reportedly sending members to fill the void.
The last round of primaries took place on March 17 in Arizona, Florida and Illinois. Multiple states have postponed elections in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The White House has advised that Americans avoid groups of more than 10 people. The White House extended its social distancing recommendations through the end of April.