Federal judge declines to move election, says new coronavirus cases from spring election on governor’s, Legislature’s hands

During a hearing Wednesday a federal judge said if anyone contracts COVID-19 during the spring election Tuesday, it will be on the governor’s and legislature’s hands, but he declined to change the date himself.

U.S. Judge James Conley said he did not feel like a federal judge had the authority to make that call in a state election, saying instead it should be the governor or legislature. He made the comments during a hearing in which the Democratic National Committee and state Democratic Party argued against the state Republican Party about moving the election or changing deadlines surrounding absentee ballots in light of the rapid spread of the coronavirus in Wisconsin.

The leaders of the state Assembly and Senate have agreed with Gov. Tony Evers that the primary and spring election should remain on April 7.

Conley said with the date being right in the middle of an important stretch of time for containing the spread of the coronavirus in the state, holding the election is not a good idea from a public health standpoint.

Other changes have been floated in various lawsuits or by the governor, who doesn’t have the authority to move the election under state law, such as extending the deadline to get an absentee ballot sent to you, allowing ballots received after the election to be counted and allowing clerks to begin counting absentee ballots before the day of the election.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he doesn’t think some of proposed rule changes for the election are unreasonable.

“Knowing how many people are voting absentee, we have some certainty to say if you send a ballot in, and you mail it on Monday or Tuesday, you should know that that ballot has a decent chance to be counted, at least through the end of the week,” Vos said. “I think that’s not an unreasonable place. I think if we allow people to keep casting ballots after they begin to hear about results on Tuesday, that would kind of upend the way we do our elections. There’s got to be a finite time period.”

Previously he has not said whether the legislature would be willing to enact those changes, but his equal in the state Senate, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, has said he doesn’t want to change election rules while voting is already underway.

The state elections commission advised local clerks they may continue counting absentee ballots the day after the election if need be.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot be sent to you is Thursday. Clerks said voters can hand deliver absentee ballots, especially if voters are unsure the ballot will arrive on time if mailed back.