Also Saturday, Republicans filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to block a deadline extension for mail-in ballots to be received in Tuesday’s contests, creating more uncertainty just three days before Election Day.
Lawyers for the Republican Party of Wisconsin and the Republican National Committee filed the appeal after a three-judge panel with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit on Friday declined to block the deadline extension, which was issued by a lower-court judge the day before in response to the growing threat of the pandemic.
The appeal was filed to Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, who is assigned to the 7th Circuit. It asks for an immediate stay of U.S. District Judge William M. Conley’s decision Thursday to extend the deadline for receiving mail-in ballots from April 7, the date of the election, to April 13. Instead, the Republicans ask that only ballots postmarked or received by April 7 should be counted, according to the court filing.
Kavanaugh has called for a reply brief by 2 p.m. Sunday.
The filing escalated the chaos surrounding Wisconsin’s elections, which local and state administrators have been scrambling to prepare for as they also contend with mass shortages of poll workers and sanitizing supplies.
Officials across Wisconsin said they would have to shutter hundreds of voting locations to contend with the worker shortage and struggled through the weekend to distribute sanitizing supplies to city and town election administrators. Earlier in the week, state election administrators said 111 cities and towns would not have enough poll workers on hand to operate a single voting location. Other localities consolidated dramatically; in Milwaukee, officials said just five polling places would open Tuesday, compared with the usual 180.
As the threat of chaos and infection grew, Evers issued his surprise reversal Friday, urging state lawmakers to cancel in-person voting Tuesday and convened the special session. He called on the legislature to send mail-in ballots to every registered voter by May 19 and extend the receipt deadline for completed ballots to May 26.
In a video posted to Facebook on Friday, Evers said that “my hands are tied” and that he could not move the election or change the rules on his own, even as health officials predicted a surge of new infections in Wisconsin over the first two weeks of April.
“Here’s the bottom line, folks: If, as elected officials, we’re going to expect the people of our state to make sacrifices to keep all of us safe, then, by golly, we better be willing do our part, too,” Evers said.
The state’s Republican leadership was quick to come out in opposition. In a statement Friday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald charged Evers with flip-flopping and said that when it comes to essential services, “an election is just as important as getting take-out food.”
“Our Republic must continue to function, and the many local government positions on the ballot must be filled so that municipalities can swiftly respond to the crisis at hand,” Vos and Fitzgerald wrote. “We continue to support what Governor Evers has supported for weeks: the election should continue as planned on Tuesday.”
In a statement Saturday evening, Evers accused Republicans of “playing politics with public safety and ignoring the urgency of this public health crisis.”
“No one should have to choose between their health and their right to vote,” Evers said.
GOP lawmakers reserved the option of taking up the issue Monday, but Republican leaders have made clear they want to go forward with Tuesday’s contests.
Matt Viser contributed to this report.