U.S. Judge Declines to Postpone Election

Brenda Jones checks over her ballot as she votes absentee during drive-up early voting in Milwauke on Saturday. Preparations for Wisconsin's April 7 presidential primary and spring election continue, even in the face of a growing number of COVID-19 cases statewide and lawsuits seeking a delay. (AP photo)

The Washington Post

Federal judge declines to postpone April 7 presidential primaries in Wisconsin

A federal judge on Thursday declined to postpone Wisconsin’s scheduled April 7 presidential primaries amid widespread worries that holding elections during the coronavirus pandemic could risk public health and curtail access to the polls.

The ruling from U.S. District Judge William M. Conley means Wisconsin will remain the only one of 11 states originally scheduled to hold contests in April that has not postponed or dramatically altered voting amid the pandemic.

However, in a 53-page ruling, Conley extended the deadline for absentee ballots to be received by local election officials by one week: from 8 p.m. on April 7 to 4 p.m. on April 13.

His decision came after Conley told lawyers during an hours-long hearing Wednesday that he was disinclined to postpone the election without evidence that hundreds of thousands would see their voting rights curtailed — evidence that won’t be available until Election Day, he said.

At the same time, Conley rebuked lawyers for the Republican-controlled General Assembly, making clear that lawmakers and Gov. Tony Evers (D) are the ones who should have canceled the April 7 contests.

“Let’s assume that this is a bad decision from the perspective of public health — and it could be excruciatingly bad,” Conley said. “I don’t think it’s the job of a federal district judge to act as a super health department for the state of Wisconsin.”

Voting-rights activists and local election administrators in Wisconsin painted a dire portrait of the risk of infection to poll workers and voters, saying how difficult it would be to administer elections under those circumstances.

More than 100 municipalities reported not having enough poll workers to open a single voting location. State officials predicted that tens of thousands of voters who have flooded election offices with mail-ballot requests in recent days were at risk of not receiving them on time.

Democrats and voting activists have accused GOP lawmakers of trying to suppress voter turnout intentionally to help an incumbent candidate for the state Supreme Court, conservative Justice Daniel Kelly, win reelection.

Leaders in the Republican-controlled legislature argued that moving the voting date so late in the process would sow confusion and create a leadership vacuum in cities and towns holding contests for municipal posts that will be vacant as early as mid-April.

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