MADISON – Three people with coronavirus Wednesday urged Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to delay the April 7 election to protect public health as voting rights advocates warned they were likely to sue over the issue.
If they bring a lawsuit, it would be the third one in Wisconsin over how to conduct an election in the midst of a global pandemic.
“In-person voting puts our community and our poll workers at risk. And I can vouch for that because nobody wants what I have right now,” said Gregory Lewis, president of the voter mobilization group Souls to the Polls.
“This virus — I can’t even explain to you how bad it is,” he said in a conference call with reporters. “A few weeks ago I was ready to knock down walls and move mountains. And now I can barely get out of bed.”
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Lewis was joined on the call by Democratic state Rep. David Bowen of Milwaukee and Pablo Muirhead of the Shorewood School Board. Like Lewis, the pair have contracted coronavirus.
“There is no safe way to be able to have this election safely,” Bowen said.
The three urged Evers to use additional powers he had during emergencies to delay the state’s presidential primary and election for state Supreme Court and local offices. But Evers has argued he doesn’t have the authority to do that.
Richard Saks, an attorney for Souls to the Polls, said he was in “active preparations” for a lawsuit. The suit would likely seek to extend the election until June 2 so people had more time to request and return absentee ballots.
He said he would likely ask to relax some other voting laws, such as requirements that absentee voters provide a photo ID before getting a ballot and get a witness to sign a certificate for them.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican from Rochester, said the election clerks were finding ways to safely conduct the election on schedule. He said he wants to keep the election on track and doesn’t believe Evers has the power to delay it.
“We live in a republic,” Vos told reporters. ” You have to have elections. If a politician can cancel an election on a whim no matter how serious the problem is, that undermines the faith and the basic tenets of our democracy.”
Two lawsuits have been filed over the April 7 election — one by the Democratic National Committee seeking to expand absentee voting and one by Green Bay’s clerk asking to delay the election to June and conduct it entirely by mail.
A federal judge on Friday issued an order reinstating online voter registration in response to the DNC lawsuit and will consider other aspects of the case later. No action has happened yet in the Green Bay lawsuit, which was filed late Tuesday.
Also Wednesday, Democratic state Sen. Chris Larson called for Milwaukee County officials to send absentee ballot requests to all registered voters in the county. Larson is running for county executive against Democratic state Rep. David Crowley.
Under Larson’s proposal, voters would get requests that they could return to clerks to have absentee ballots sent to them. Their ballots would have to be back to clerks by election day.
He joins a chorus of others encouraging people to vote absentee so they don’t risk getting ill by going to the polls.
“As we continue to battle the COVID-19 epidemic, we must protect our most fundamental right: the right to vote,” Larson said in a statement.
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