Wisconsin governor asks to delay Tuesday's primary, make all voting by mail

(Reuters) – Democratic Governor Tony Evers asked Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature on Friday to cancel in-person voting in next week’s presidential primary, making it an all-mail election and extending the time to return ballots until late May.

Evers signed an executive order calling the legislature into a special session to consider his request on Saturday, three days before Wisconsin voters are scheduled to conduct an election amid worries about the health risks from the coronavirus pandemic.

A federal judge on Thursday rejected a legal request by a voting rights group to postpone the primary in Wisconsin, where residents are under orders to stay at home and public gatherings are banned. But the judge extended the deadline for receiving absentee ballots in the contest to April 13.

Evers, who had come under fire for not seeking a delay to the contest, said in a video message to state residents that officials should share the responsibility with citizens to keep the state healthy.

“I am calling the legislature into a special session to do its part — just as all of us are — to help keep our neighbors, our families, and our communities safe,” he said.

The pandemic has disrupted the Democratic race to pick a challenger for Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 U.S. election, forcing more than a dozen states to delay or adjust their primaries to limit the health risks.

The Wisconsin legislature has the legal authority to delay the primary, but Republicans have resisted the idea of an all-mail election, citing potential fraud, administrative issues and the short timeline.

The election also will decide thousands of state and local offices, including a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court that could be instrumental in ruling on future voting-rights cases in a battleground state crucial to November’s election.

Evers asked legislators to send a ballot to every registered voter who had not already requested one by May 19, and to extend the time for the ballots to be received to May 26. The legislature rejected a request from Evers last week to authorize sending an absentee ballot to every registered voter.

Officials in the state warned of potential chaos if the voting goes ahead. Concerns about coronavirus left nearly 60% of the state’s municipalities with a shortage of poll workers, causing the consolidation of many polling sites, and more than 100 municipalities without staff for even one polling site.

The Wisconsin Army National Guard was set to help at the polls if the vote proceeds.

Nearly 1.2 million absentee ballots had been requested as of Thursday – surpassing the total turnout in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary – although fewer than half have been returned so far.

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