Gov. Tony Evers speaks during a call with reporters to discuss the safer-at-home order that expires May 26. (Screenshot via Wisconsin DHS)
Gov. Tony Evers speaks during a call with reporters to discuss the safer-at-home order that expires May 26. (Screenshot via Wisconsin DHS)

Wisconsin Governor says he has a constitutional duty to ‘insure domestic tranquility and promote general welfare’

The chaos surrounding the April 7 election in Wisconsin continues, with the governor issuing an order suspending in-person voting less than 24 hours before it is set to begin, Republican leaders filing a legal challenge against it in the state Supreme Court and at least two cities independently calling off Tuesday’s election.

Gov. Tony Evers said he called and spoke with each of the legislative leaders Tuesday prior to issuing the executive order. The order would delay in-person voting until June 9. Ballots already submitted still would be valid and voters could continue to submit absentee ballots until 5 p.m. five days prior to the June 9 election.

Evers’ order calls on the Legislature to convene at 2 p.m. Tuesday to either approve the June 9 date or set another voting day for the spring election. 

Evers said he was aware Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, would challenge his executive order in the state Supreme Court. 

“This is another last minute flip-flop from the governor on the April 7 election,” said a  joint statement from Fitzgerald and Vos. “The governor himself has repeatedly acknowledged he can’t move the election. Just last week, a federal judge said he did not have the power to cancel the election and Gov. Evers doesn’t either. Gov. Evers can’t unilaterally run the state.”

Evers said he now believes he has the authority to issue the order based on worsening conditions associated with the spread of the coronavirus and his constitutional duty to “insure domestic tranquility and promote general welfare, and, as governor, I made an oath to uphold the Wisconsin Constitution.”

Evers said he is making his case based on public health concerns and the inability of the he and the Legislature, who seldom agree on policy and work collaboratively together, to solve this issue. Evers called Friday for a special session of the Legislature.

When Monday morning came and went without lawmakers meeting, Evers said he took action. 

“This is it. There is no Plan B. There is no Plan C,” Evers said. “We believe this Supreme Court will support us on this.”

The Wisconsin Elections Commission met in an emergency session late Monday afternoon to discuss the order. It quickly adjourned, with commissioners saying they were not in a position to make any decisions until court rulings come in. They will reconvene within two hours of a state Supreme Court decision being made.

In his order, Evers cites events leading up to his decision, including declaring a public health emergency on March 12 in Wisconsin; President Donald Trump’s proclamation a day later declaring a national emergency due to COVID 19, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision to delay jury trials until May 22. 

Evers said the consolidation of polling locations due to the fear among poll workers that they could be exposed to the virus if they interacted with the public on Election Day played a big factor in his decision as well.

His order states the city of Waukesha has consolidated its polling locations from 15 to one,  the city of Milwaukee has consolidated its polling locations from 182 to five locations – a loss of over 97 percent of its polling locations – and the city of Green Bay has consolidated its polling locations from 31 to 2 locations. 

Consolidation to that level would make social distancing extremely difficult, said state Department of Health Services Sec. Andrea Palm. 

“In-person voting (Tuesday) would, without question, increase the spread of COVID-19,” Palm said.