Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is asking a judge to delay the date by which he must call special elections for two vacant legislative seats while legislators try to change the state law governing those elections.
The state Senate and Assembly both plan to meet in extraordinary session on April 4 to pass a bill that would remove a requirement under state statute that special elections be called "as promptly as possible" following a vacancy.
Dane County Circuit Judge Josann Reynolds ruled last week that Walker must call two special elections by March 29. The elections could be held as late as May, and the seats would be back on the ballot in November. In a motion filed by the state Department of Justice on Monday night, Walker asked Reynolds to move the deadline to April 6.
Seats in the state's 1st Senate District and 42nd Assembly District were vacated in late December when Walker appointed Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, and Rep. Keith Ripp, R-Lodi, to administrative positions.
Walker refused to call special elections for the two seats, arguing it made sense to leave them open until the regularly scheduled Nov. 6 elections. Plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's National Democratic Redistricting Committee argued they do not have representatives voting on several key issues in the Legislature.
The complaint cited this statutory requirement, which Republican legislative leaders are now seeking to change: "Any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring before the 2nd Tuesday in May in the year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat shall be filled as promptly as possible by special election."
The bill, up for a hearing on Wednesday, would prevent a special election from occurring after the state's spring election in even-numbered years. It would also prohibit a governor from scheduling a special election any sooner than four months after a seat opens — effectively ensuring that a legislative vacancy occurring in December of an odd-numbered year would not be filled until November of the following year.
It would apply retroactively to the two seats in question under Reynolds' ruling.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, told reporters last week that Reynolds' ruling would result in "chaos" in the two districts as they would hold several sets of elections in a condensed time period.
Fitzgerald said in a statement on Monday that he is "open to discussion on how much discretion a Governor should have and how much time should be allotted to call a special election." He said he would consider legislation introduced by Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, proposed earlier this year that would change the timeline of the governor's statutory requirement to call a special election from "as promptly as possible" to within 60 days of the seat opening.
In a statement, Shilling called the efforts to block the two special elections "the height of corruption."
"Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans are so desperate to maintain their grip on power that they are changing laws to silence voters," Shilling said.
In the motion filed on Monday, Attorney General Brad Schimel argued the judge should grant the extension to prevent "needless voter confusion."
If the legislation is not passed, Schimel said, Walker plans to hold the special elections on June 12. If a primary is required, it would be held on May 15.
A hearing on the motion is scheduled for Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.