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Wisconsin voters go to the polls Tuesday, despite "stay-at-home" order

Wisconsin holds primary despite pandemic

Under a statewide "safer-at-home" order intended to prevent more widespread COVID-19 infection, Wisconsinites are going to the polls to vote in person Tuesday, after a series of legal battles over whether or not the primary election could be delayed and whether the voting period for absentee voters could be extended. 

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the lower court ruling that would have allowed more time for absentee voting. As a result, all ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday, April 7. Also on Monday, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers tried to delay the primary until June 9 by executive order, but Republicans in the legislature sued, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court blocked the order. 

Although the election remains in place for Tuesday, Wisconsin Elections Administrator Meagan Wolfe told reporters Monday night that results will not be reported until next week.

"The guidance for clerks is going to be that they cannot release any tallies until April 13 after 4 p.m.," Wolfe said. "The court order today from the Supreme Court again extended that deadline for ballots to be received, if they're postmarked by Election Day, to be received up through the 13th at 4 p.m. And so the tally cannot be released until all the ballots have been accounted for." 

There is another wrinkle that may cause some absentee voters not to have their votes counted. Wolfe said that voters who returned their ballots without a witness signature — if they provided a written statement they couldn't get one — may see their votes discarded. 

Election 2020 Wisconsin
This April 6, 2020 photo provided by Scott Trindl shows the sole polling location for city of Waukesha, Wisconsin, residents. Scott Trindl / AP

Wisconsin requires absentee ballots to have a witness signature to be counted. But last week the district court judge said that because of the coronavirus, if voters certified that they weren't able to get a witness signature on their ballot, then they could still turn in their ballots, if they provided a written statement saying they weren't able to get the necessary signature. 

On Friday night, the appeals court overruled the lower court, meaning all ballots — even those sent during the period the district court judge's order was in effect — must meet the witness requirement. So, if that ballot was received without a signature, it will not be counted. 

And these voters aren't able to get a new ballot at the polls Tuesday either, because of the Wisconsin law that says voters may not vote at the polls if they sent in their absentee ballots. 

Wolfe said that precautions were being taken for Tuesday's primary, and there would be everyone hand sanitizer, wipes and social distancing signs. 

Wisconsin state Republicans celebrated the decisions and welcomed the opportunity for people to come to the polls in person. The chairman of the state election commission, Dean Knudson said, "It's very important in our system of representative democracy that citizens have a right to choose their representatives, especially during a crisis. Even in times of war and during pandemic worse than the current crisis, we still go to the polls and we vote for our leaders."

But Democratic appointee, Commissioner Ann Jacobs condemned the decision and said they had failed the voters.

"The fact of the matter is, is that voters will be brave enough to go tomorrow. And they shouldn't have to. Because this isn't a situation where we should be expecting ordinary people to risk their lives, the lives of people around them, the lives of people around them to go vote. And we failed them," Jacobs said. "And the glee with which this has been extolled as a victory is astonishing. We should be embarrassed that this many votes are not going to be counted. We should be embarrassed that the absentee ballots didn't even get out to people so they could choose how to safely vote." 

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