Evers seeks "middle path" in election day dispute

Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers says he doesn't believe Republicans are "bastards" as he speaks with reporters Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. Evers used the word when talking about Republicans' decision last week to fire his agriculture secretary Brad Pfaff. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- As a federal judge prepares to hear the evidence in the Democrats lawsuit asking a U.S. District Court to delay next week’s spring election and presidential primary, the Governor’s Office is proposing what it calls a “middle path” solution.

Multiple groups including the Democratic National Committee have filed three federal lawsuits seeking to postpone in-person voting until after Gov. Tony Evers' stay-at-home order expires, allow clerks to send absentee ballots to all registered voters and give clerks until June 2 to count ballots. An attorney for the GOP contended the federal courts should not involve themselves in the issue and dismiss the case.

Gov. Tony Evers, who has previously expressed support for a mail-in system, offered his plan Tuesday in an amicus brief filed with the Western District of Wisconsin court. In it, he detailed the obstacles the coronavirus pandemic has caused and the steps his administration have taken to ensure the election would happen on time.

He noted that going into Tuesday, nearly one million absentee ballots (972,232) had been requested and all but approximately 30,000 had been sent to voters. In an amicus brief filed by the City of Madison, it told the court the City alone was facing a backlog of 10,000 requests, nearly a third of the number cited by Evers. The Governor’s brief noted, too, that of the over 940,000 sent out, more than 600,000 have yet to be returned.

While Evers’ brief does not ask for a change the April 7 Election Day, it does urge the federal judge to make changes to the absentee ballot system that it argues would “maintain the democratic process, while also implementing appropriate measures to save lives.”

His plan is designed to make absentee ballots easier for voters to get and make them easier to return, for example by relaxing the witness requirement.” It would adjust the schedule for when and how absentee ballots are counted, giving officials more time to tally the flood of ballots. In person voting would not be eliminated under this design, Evers notes. Some polling locations would remain open for people who aren’t able to vote by mail.

Currently, nearly 60% of Wisconsin polling locations have reported a shortage of poll workers, with 111 locations reporting no workers available at all.

Wisconsin Election Commission officials have discussed the challenges of moving back the April 7 vote, including the fact that even by delaying the vote until the May 12 special Congressional election for District 7 would leave seats empty for weeks after the previous officeholders term expired.

Evers brief came a day after Madison officials filed their own amicus curiae brief, which, like Evers, let them weigh in on a case to which they were not a named party and offer insight possibly unavailable to the court.

In its filing, 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. It argued, not only does the Clerk’s Office likely face insurmountable challenges, voting that day would jeopardize the health of many residents.

It urged the court to shift the Election Day until the end of April at the earliest. 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.

On Tuesday, Dane Co. Executive Joe Parisi stated the county intended to file its own brief as well.

U.S. District Judge William Conley is set to take testimony during a hearing Wednesday afternoon.