City of Madison warns an April 7 election wouldn’t be “full and fair”

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- Half of the Madison residents who want to vote next week may not get the chance unless a federal court moves the date of next Tuesday’s spring election and presidential primary back at least three weeks, the City of Madison asserted.

In an amicus curiae filed Monday for a lawsuit asking for the election to be moved, the City repeatedly warned its Clerk’s Office would not be able to run a “full and fair election” if voting took place on April 7. Although, it is not party to the case, the City filed the brief to offer its insight into the matter.

It urged the court to shift the Election Day until the end of April at the earliest, claiming, not only the Clerk’s Office faces likely insurmountable challenges, it would jeopardize the health of many residents.

In addition to a later date, the City proposed switching to mail-in system. Additionally, all current officeholders would remain in their seats until the new elections are held.

The City’s brief based its arguments on a report on the coronavirus pandemic by Public Health Madison & Dane County as well as a declaration from City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl that the filing stated “could hardly be starker.”

Half of its workers will not be working on Election Day and many of its polling locations are not available, City Attorney Michael May argued.

“An election where thousands of eligible voters will be denied their right vote is not a full and fair election,” the brief stated, using sentiment echoed frequently in the five-page document.

According to the brief, the Clerk’s Office is unable to keep up with the demand for absentee ballots and is facing a backlog of over 10,000 requests, even after issuing four times that amount. The City projects that it will not be able to fulfill the requests before the statutory deadline, leaving many people unable to vote. Despite the high demand for ballots, some voters are not able to request them, it asserted.

May told the court some of the people, whom he described as often older, possibly in quarantine, and usually living alone, could not upload all of the needed documents to make their request and have nowhere to turn for help. Even if they get them, though, many of those who asked for them won’t be able to properly fill them out, he continued. May argued that because ballots require a witness’ signature and the voters who are living alone may be too scared to reach out to someone they do not know to serve as one.

The brief aligns with the positions of the national and state Democratic Parties who sued the state Elections Commission earlier this month asking the court to loosen election laws to deal with problems caused by the outbreak. However, the state’s top Democrat, Gov. Tony Evers, along with state Republicans contend the April 7 date should stand.

An attorney for the GOP contended the federal courts should not involve themselves in the issue and dismiss the case. On Thursday, Republicans asked U.S. District Judge William Conley to let them join the lawsuit, arguing they should be allowed to protect their constituents from last-minute changes to voting laws and procedures.

Evers, meanwhile, has supported an all-mail election like the one proposed by the City. A lawsuit brought by the City of Green Bay also backed a mail only system, but was dismissed after the judge ruled the plaintiffs did not have standing.

The April 7 election includes the presidential primary, a state Supreme Court race and hundreds of local races.