Elections should be convenient and consistent so as many people as possible can cast ballots and participate in democracy.
Gov. Tony Evers failed to respect those principles last week when he scheduled an important vote for the Monday between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, which is the last day of Hanukkah.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is right to ask the Democratic governor to reschedule the special primary and election Evers set last week for Dec. 30 and Jan. 27 to fill a vacant 7th Congressional District seat.
The primary for the northern Wisconsin seat in Congress is expected to be competitive for both political parties. U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wausau, resigned the position last week, citing a family health issue.
Every Wisconsin primary and general election that state elections officials can remember has been held on a Tuesday. Tuesday elections allow local clerks the first day of the work week to prepare polling places.
But Evers last week scheduled the special 7th District primary and general elections for Mondays, which is likely to confuse voters and hurt turnout. Dec. 30 also falls in the middle of the holiday break when most people are spending time with family and often traveling.
The Democratic governor's decision to hold a Jan. 27 special election would place the primary on Dec. 30, which falls on the final day of Hanukkah, the eight-day Festival of Lights.
Evers said he picked the unusual dates so the seat could be filled quickly. We get his point. Voters in the 7th District deserve a voice in Washington.
But many of those same voters will miss having their say about who represents them if they are surprised by a quick election that’s held on an unexpected day of the week when they aren’t paying close attention to politics.
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Evers apparently picked a Monday for the special primary to avoid conflicting with Christmas or New Year’s Eve, which fall on Tuesdays this year. State law also limits how much earlier or later the governor can order a special vote — unless he schedules it in conjunction with the regular spring primary Feb. 18 and spring election April 7.
State law encourages special elections to be timed with regular elections so clerks and poll workers aren’t burdened with multiple voting dates in relatively short periods of time. Another benefit is that it saves taxpayers the expense of additional ballots and labor.
But in this case, he’s right that Evers should reschedule. And it’s not just conservatives crying foul. Matthew Rothschild, who leads the liberal Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, predicts the lowest turnout in state history if the special election dates don’t change.
“That’d be a bad joke on our democracy,” Rothschild wrote.
Both political parties appear to be siding with dates they believe will help their candidates most. Republicans claim Democrats fear holding the 7th District election concurrent with the spring election because it could attract more conservative voters to cast ballots in a state Supreme Court race. Democrats also might have a better shot at winning the 7th District if fewer voters turn out, given that Republicans have drawn the district to unfairly favor conservatives.
Evers should rise above petty politics and encourage voter participation by setting the 7th District contests for Tuesdays that aren’t during the holidays.