“Traditionally it’s always been Republicans suppressing votes in places. Let’s start protecting our voters. We know where they are. Let’s start playing offense a little bit. That’s what you’re going to see in 2020.” – Justin Clark, Trump re-election advisor

On April 4, Republican legislative leaders immediately adjourned a special session called by the governor to consider a plan to conduct the spring election by mail, and they are planning to appeal other election changes to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, called a special session of the Legislature for 4:00 p.m. Saturday to take up legislation delaying Tuesday’s election and ensuring access to mail-in ballots. By 4:05 p.m., the session was adjourned until Monday, April 6 and it was unclear whether legislators planned any action then, either.

The empty legislative session follows a week of intense back and forth over how to conduct Wisconsin’s spring elections in the midst of a pandemic. On Friday night, April 3, a federal court ruling blocked some of the election orders put in place days earlier by a judge, and upheld others.

Responding to state measures intended to slow the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus, federal Judge William Conley had granted Wisconsin clerks additional time to receive and tally absentee ballots, ruling that the deadline for the ballots would be April 13 rather than the scheduled April 7 Election Day. On April 3, the federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld most of the order, but struck a portion that would have permitted clerks to count absentee ballots that lacked a witness signature.

“Republicans in the Legislature are playing politics with public safety and ignoring the urgency of this public health crisis. It’s wrong. No one should have to choose between their health and their right to vote. Being a good leader means listening to the experts, being willing to adjust our course based on the science, and making the tough decisions necessary to protect the people of our state,” said Governor Evers. “This, however, is an easy decision. It’s time for every Republican legislator to do their jobs and take a vote on this commonsense proposal to extend the election date so everyone can vote safely from home. I urge every Wisconsinite to contact their legislators and demand a vote.”

State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, both Republicans, issued a statement indicating they will seek even stricter limits on absentee balloting, as clerks across the state face the prospect of tallying more than a million absentee ballots in total.

“We accept that clerks need more time to count ballots,” the statement said. “We still have grave concerns about election security by allowing votes to be postmarked or submitted after Election Day, and plan to appeal that issue to the United States Supreme Court.”

Neil Albrecht, director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, said a reversal of the judge’s extension would have “tremendous consequence to voters across the state,” and in particular on large cities that struggled to meet the massive spike in absentee ballot requests. He pointed out that some voters waited more than a week to receive their absentee ballots.

“I don’t think they should be disenfranchised due to the dynamics of administering an election in the midst of a pandemic, and some of the slowdowns that can create,” Albrecht said on a Saturday call with reporters. “I’m hopeful this state, as it should, can move forward with that April 13 deadline” for voters to return absentee ballots Any type of a reversal on that extension would further compromise the integrity of this election,” Albrecht said.

Most municipalities in the state are experiencing shortages of poll workers, and the shortages are critical in many places, a survey by the Wisconsin Elections Commission found. The number of polling places has been severely curtailed in the state’s largest cities, raising the prospect that voters will face long lines and unsafe conditions on Tuesday, April 7.

“The strategy to rig the rules in elections and give themselves an unfair partisan advantage goes to Donald Trump, the highest levels of his campaign and the top Republican leadership. It’s clear there’s no law Donald Trump and his right-wing machine won’t bend, break, or ignore to try to win the presidency.” – Mike Browne, deputy director of One Wisconsin Now

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