The Wisconsin primary election on Tuesday is back on.
The state Supreme Court appeared to get in the the final word Monday evening, thwarting Gov. Tony Evers’ last-ditch attempt to postpone in-person voting in the state’s election and reschedule the vote for June 7. The U.S. Supreme Court later blocked state Democrats’ bid to extend early voting a week after the election.
The Wisconsin court ruled by a 4-2 margin that Mr. Evers, who had issued a statewide stay-at-home order in response to the coronavirus epidemic, lacked the authority to unilaterally change an election date through the executive order he had issued earlier in the day.
The decision capped some wild days in Wisconsin.
Mr. Evers went from agreeing with the GOP controlled legislature that the primary should go on as planned to accusing Republican leaders of forcing voters to choose between risking their health and their constitutional right to vote.
The governor had faced increasing pressure from fellow Democrats and outside groups to follow in the footsteps of other states that have rescheduled their voting.
“The bottom line is that I have an obligation to keep people safe, and that’s why I signed this executive order today,” Mr. Evers said prior to the court overturning his order.
Later on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court got in on the act, blocking a lower federal court’s order to extend the absentee ballot deadline tp April 13, six days after the actual vote.
In an unsigned 5-4 opinion, the Republican-appointed majority ruled that absentee ballots must be hand-delivered by Tuesday evening or postmarked by Tuesday.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in a vigorous dissent that the court “intervenes at the eleventh hour to prevent voters who have timely requested absentee ballots from casting their votes” raising the specter of “massive disenfranchisement.”
The battle is another reminder of how the coronavirus has upended the 2020 election cycle.
A dozen other states and Puerto Rico have postponed their primary elections, and Alaska, Hawaii, and Wyoming have replaced in-person voting with all-mail voting.
That has given hope to voting-rights activists who have been pushing to expand absentee and mail-in voting across the country.
It also has opened up another front in the broader battle over voting rights that pits the Democratic push to expand the number of votes versus the GOP’s vow to defend elections from fraud.
“The chaos that voters in Wisconsin are facing is a dire warning of what could happen this fall unless Congress intervenes,” said Sean Eldridge, founder of Stand Up America. “No voter should have to choose between participating in our democracy and protecting their health, but that’s exactly what’s happening.”
Mr. Eldridge said Congress must pass at least $2 billion in assistance for states to “to implement vote-by-mail measures, expand online registration, and increase early voting.”
The $2 trillion stimulus package that Congress passed this month set aside $400 million to help states prepare for the coronavirus.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, though, wants more.
The California Democrat has called for $4 billion to be funneled to the states to help them prepare for the possibility the coronavirus will still be wreaking havoc on the nation when it is time for the general election on Nov. 3.
The money would have come with strings, including requiring states to send absentee ballots to every registered voter.
Critics say that could open the door to ballot harvesting. They say states, not the federal government, should decide how to handle their elections and say that calls for a dramatic overhaul of the November election are premature.
“Generally speaking, there is an unnecessary amount of panic around the November election, states should be reaching for Lysol and not mail ballots on this,” said Logan Churchwell, spokesman for the Public Interest Legal Foundation. “It makes sense if you have a primary coming up, maybe you push it back, maybe you switch it to all-mail.”
“But the broader issue is to say that we need to make sure November is all-mail ballot too is a complete overreaction,” he said. “It is yet again a fraction of the American political system making a power grab and not letting this crisis go to waste.”