Green Bay has filed a federal lawsuit against the state to get it to cancel in-person voting for the April 7 election amid coronavirus fears. (Photo illustration by Jonathon Sadowski)
Green Bay has filed a federal lawsuit against the state to get it to cancel in-person voting for the April 7 election amid coronavirus fears. (Photo illustration by Jonathon Sadowski)

Gov. Evers and GOP leaders say it should go on despite mounting concerns, urge more use of absentee ballots

The City of Green Bay is suing the State of Wisconsin in federal court in an attempt to stop in-person voting on April 7, a spring election date still supported by Gov. Tony Evers and the Republican leaders of the Legislature.

Citing the coronavirus outbreak, the city wants a court to extend voter registration through May 1, and to push back the deadline for finalized election results until June 2.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court, argues that holding the election during the pandemic without changes “endangers not only the public health, but also the legitimacy of that same election process.” The filing came the same day Gov. Tony Evers gave a month-long stay-at-home order for the entire state, and as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Wisconsin soared to 585 and a 6th death was announced.

“I don’t feel at all comfortable asking people to choose between either their health or their right to vote,” Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich said in an interview. “…Having an in-person election on April 7 is not at all practical or possible, isn’t lawful or just.”

Evers has repeatedly said he wants to hold the election as planned on April 7, and he says he does not have the authority to postpone it. On Wednesday, the Legislature’s two Republican leaders also said the April 7 election should continue, recognizing the hundreds of thousands of absentee ballot requests that have been made and returned. But pressure is mounting from officials and in editorials throughout the state. Earlier this week, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett formally requested the election be held by mail only.

In Green Bay, only 54 of the city’s 278 poll workers have agreed to work on Election Day, and only 11 of those are chief inspectors, according to the filing. Every voting site requires at least one chief inspector. And of the 278 workers, 90 percent are above the age of 60, according to the suit, the demographic most at-risk from coronavirus.

The state Elections Commission has proposed municipalities try to attract more poll workers to make up for the decline. Genrich wasn’t happy with the solution.

“(Young people) are just as capable of spreading this illness all over our community,” Genrich said. “So for the Wisconsin Elections Commission to call on us to replace these most vulnerable poll workers with younger people is not at all a solution. It’s not at all a public health solution, and it’s not something that you would hear public health experts recommend.”

Green Bay argues it and other cities “are in a no-win situation” and would suffer “irreparable harm” if the election is not held by mail. While the city is currently the only plaintiff in the suit, Genrich said he has been in contact with communities throughout the state who have expressed interest in either joining or filing briefs supporting the suit.

Genrich said it was possible both sides would begin presenting their case via telephone as soon as Wednesday afternoon. He expects proceedings to move quickly, but would not speculate on how good Green Bay’s chances are in the case.

“I’m not an attorney,” Genrich said. “I was very impressed, though, by the legal work that our law department provided in this case. … I’m encouraging everybody, really, including the federal judiciary to just follow the facts, to just recognize what we’re experiencing.”