Judge overturns governor’s order; Tuesday’s election reinstated

By Brandi Makusi

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has overturned Gov. Tony Evers’ emergency order to postpone the election.

About five hours after Gov. Tony Evers issued an order postponing the April 7 spring primary until June, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued its own order reversing it, meaning residents will have an opportunity to cast their ballots of Tuesday.

The 4-2 ruling overturned Evers’ order, which was made less than 24 hours before the spring primary out of concern for spreading COVID-19. Justice Daniel Kelly, who is up for reelection, abstained from the vote.

House Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), the two legislatures who lead the challenge of Evers’ order on Monday, issued the following joint statement Monday afternoon:

“We agree with the state Supreme Court’s ruling that affirms the separation of powers spelled out in our Constitution. The state’s highest court has spoken: the governor can’t unilaterally move the date of the election.

“We are proud that Wisconsinites have come together to meet the challenges that this pandemic has created. The safety and health of our citizens have always been our highest concern; that’s why we advocated for everyone to vote absentee. Wisconsin has responded in droves. Over a million ballots have been requested for tomorrow’s election. We continue to believe that citizens should be able to exercise their right to vote at the polls on Election Day, should they choose to do so.

“We want to thank the hardworking clerks around the state who have been working around the clock to ensure a safe and fair election. We also appreciate the assistance of the National Guard members who have been activated to play an important support role.

“This election will proceed as planned.”

“We agree with the state Supreme Court’s ruling that affirms the separation of powers spelled out in our Constitution. The state’s highest court has spoken: the governor can’t unilaterally move the date of the election.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Gov. Tony Evers on Monday issued an executive order canceling the spring primary election less than 24 hours before the polls were set to open.

In his order, Evers also called the state legislature into special session to reschedule the election to June 9 out of concerns for the spread of COVID-19. So far, the coronavirus was postponed the Democratic National Convention, canceled the WIAA spring sports season, and shuttered many businesses across the state.

“No Wisconsinite should ever have to choose between exercising their constitutional right to vote and being safe, secure, and healthy,” Evers said in a statement to the press on Monday. “I have been advised by public health experts at the Department of Health Services that despite the heroic efforts and good work of our local election officials, poll workers, and national guard troops, there is not a sufficiently safe way to administer in-person voting tomorrow.”

But there’s question as to whether Evers has the authority to make that call. Last week, Evers said he didn’t have the authority to reschedule the election when pressed to do so, saying the decision was up to the legislature.

The legislature has appealed Evers’ order, and on Monday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a joint statement they were challenging Evers’ executive order in the Wisconsin Supreme Court and that local clerks should “stand ready to proceed with the election.”

“We are immediately challenging this executive order in the Wisconsin State Supreme Court,” the joint statement reads. “The clerks of this state should stand ready to proceed with the election. The governor’s executive order is clearly an unconstitutional overreach. This is another last-minute flip-flop from the governor on the April 7th election. 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 Governor Evers doesn’t either. Governor Evers can’t unilaterally run the state.”

Portage Co. Clerk Kayla Filen said she’s telling municipal clerks across the county to continue working as normal.

“At this point, we are going forward as if there were an election tomorrow,” Filen said by phone Monday afternoon. “We’re waiting for the court hearing because the legislature challenged the order. Once we hear from the court, that will give us a better idea of what it means for Portage County voters. But right now, I’ve advised my municipal clerks to continue setting up their polling places.”