Proponents of delaying the April 7 election urged Gov. Tony Evers to take action, arguing that in-person voting cannot be conducted safely because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Gregory Lewis, president of a group called Souls to the Polls that works to turn out black voters, and Rep. David Bowen urged the governor to postpone the election. They were joined in a press call Wednesday by Pablo Muirhead, a member of the Shorewood Board of Education and an instructor at Milwaukee Area Technical College.
Lewis, Bowen and Muirhead have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“I can barely get out of bed,” Lewis said during the call. “For me to try and get out to vote is an impossibility.”
Bowen said that the virus is “no joke” and “very tough on the body.”
“There is no safe way to be able to have this election,” the Milwaukee Democrat said.
Evers has so far resisted calls to move the date, pointing out that in addition to the Democratic presidential primary, there are elections for local offices that could leave seats unfilled if delayed.
But on Monday, Evers told reporters his administration was “evaluating” conducting the election by-mail only, adding: “the message is still stay at home, vote by mail.”
Milwaukee-based employment and labor attorney Richard Sacks, who previously represented Voces de la Frontera and the NAACP on voting rights issues, said on the call that he is anticipating pursuing legal action to postpone the in-person April 7 election.
Sacks also called for allowing absentee ballot voting to continue for a “reasonable” amount of time and relaxing some standards for absentee balloting, such as the requirement for a witness signature.
Mariah Clark, a nurse in UW Health’s emergency department, said on the call that “the pandemic isn’t going anywhere” by April 7.
“In the midst of a national emergency, we should not be asking people to choose between the right to vote and the right to keep them and their families safe,” Clark said.
Meanwhile, voters are able to continue registering online through My Vote Wisconsin until March 30 after a federal judge last week reinstated the system to provide more flexibility to individuals seeking to cast ballots in the April 7 election amid the coronavirus pandemic. The original deadline to register online was last week Wednesday, March 25, as laid out in state law.
The move came after state and national Democratic officials filed a lawsuit seeking to make absentee voting easier and suspend parts of the state’s voting laws, including the photo ID and proof of residency requirements. The suit didn’t request that the election be pushed back.
The judge in his ruling initially declined to grant the other requests made by party officials but left open the door to possibly doing so in the coming days or weeks. Voters are also still able to register in-person at their local clerk’s office or on Election Day.
On Tuesday, the city of Green Bay filed a lawsuit to delay the election to June and conduct it by mail.
Surge in absentee ballot voting
Local leaders are encouraging voters to take advantage of absentee ballot voting, but Lewis said relying on mail-in ballots “will not uplift every voter's voice.”
“Every person in Wisconsin should feel safe when they cast their ballots,” Lewis said from quarantine. “We must act to protect the health of our community and the health of our democracy."
Muirhead pointed out challenges with absentee ballot voting. For example, students move frequently and some may be homeless.
“We need to have some time to be able to ensure that everyone can vote,” Muirhead said.
Across Wisconsin, absentee ballot requests have surged as voters seek to limit themselves as much as possible to potential coronavirus exposure. The total number of ballot asks has already surpassed the 249,503 that were issued during the 2016 spring election, the last presidential primary.
As of Wednesday, clerks throughout the state had received 626,837 absentee ballot requests for next month’s election, according to the Elections Commission. In Dane County, 100,608 individuals have sought to vote absentee so far.
The city of Madison issued 45,640 absentee ballots as of Tuesday, including 2,172 absentee ballots cast in person. The city clerk’s office is processing requests sent on Thursday.
To request an absentee ballot, voters can visit myvote.wi.gov or contact their municipal clerk’s office. Voters who are already registered must request an absentee ballot by Thursday, April 2, though the commission suggests doing so as soon as possible.
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