Citing a Jewish holiday, the top Assembly Republican has asked Gov. Tony Evers to reschedule the Jan. 27 special election for the 7th Congressional District.
In a Friday statement, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the Democratic governor’s decision to hold a Jan. 27 special election would place the primary on Dec. 30, the final day of Hanukkah, the eight-day Festival of Lights.
“It is unnecessary to require Wisconsinites to exercise their civic duty to vote on a day they have set aside for a religious purpose,” Vos said in the statement. “I respectfully demand that you find a new date for the upcoming special election.”
Rabbi Jonathan Biatch, with Madison’s Temple Beth El, said Hanukkah does not come with the same restrictions as the Jewish community’s more sacred festival days.
Biatch said observant Jews don’t drive or use electricity on five sacred holidays during the year or on Shabbat, which is held every Saturday. Such prohibitions don’t exist for Hanukkah, he added.
“That’s wonderful that he recognized it, but the fact is we don’t have religious restrictions on those days,” Biatch said. “Voting is not a problem on those days.”
Matthew Rothschild, executive director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which primarily tracks campaign financing, also opposed holding a primary during Hanukkah. Rothschild, who is Jewish, also questioned holding the election on a Monday.
“Having a primary during the holidays just isn’t cool,” Rothschild said in a statement. “Because of (Evers’) decision, the turnout is likely to be one of the lowest in Wisconsin history.”
Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesman Reid Magney said state law allows for a Monday special election but added nobody in the office could recall a Monday election before.
Magney said it will be tough to predict turnout. Special elections traditionally see lower turnout than general elections.
“It could certainly affect turnout,” Magney said. “To what extent, I can’t really say.”
The original legislative schedule, set by Republicans, had the Assembly scheduled to meet on Yom Kippur, which begins on the evening of Oct. 8. The Assembly voted unanimously to change the schedule so it would not meet on that day, considered one of the five sacred days on the Jewish calendar, but the Senate did not.
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Evers’ office did not respond to requests for comment.
Evers called for the special election on Monday, the same day U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Weston, resigned the position.
“The people of Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District deserve to have a voice in Congress, which is why I am calling for a special election to occur quickly to ensure the people of the 7th Congressional District have representation as soon as possible,” Evers said in a Monday statement.
If Evers were to reschedule the special election, his options are limited.
State law says the earliest a primary can be held is 92 days from the governor’s order. But 92 days from Monday, the day Duffy resigned, would be Dec. 24, Christmas Eve.
If there’s a primary – as there will be in this election, since state Sen. Tom Tiffany and Army veteran Jason Church, both Republicans, have announced their candidacies – the runoff must be held no fewer than 28 days before the general election.
Pushing the general election to Jan. 27 moves the primary to Dec. 30. (He could have picked the next day, Tuesday Jan. 28, but that would have put the primary on New Year’s Eve.) Evers can’t push the election back much beyond that; the state has a “blackout period” on special elections between Feb. 1 through April 7.
One option would be to attach the special primary and election to the already scheduled Feb. 18 spring primary and April 7 spring election, but that would leave the 7th Congressional District seat vacant for about half a year.
The winner of the special election will serve through the end of 2020 and have to run again in the November 2020 election if he or she wishes to serve a full two-year term.
Wisconsin’s 7th District covers all or parts of 20 central, northern and northwestern Wisconsin counties and is the state’s largest congressional district geographically. In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney carried the district with 51% of the vote, compared with 48% that went to then-President Barack Obama. In 2016, Republican Donald Trump won it 57% to 37% over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.