MADISON, Wis. (CN) — Wisconsin’s highest court on Monday reinstated in-person voting for Tuesday’s primary election less than six hours after the state’s Democratic governor issued an executive order postponing the primary as a safety precaution to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s brief 4-2 decision enjoined Governor Tony Evers’ executive order from earlier in the day, which called off in-person polling for the April 7 election and rescheduled the primary for June 9. The justices granted the GOP-controlled Legislature’s petition challenging the governor’s order.
The high court’s order puts the state back on track for in-person voting on Tuesday, but it also leaves in place a provision of Evers’ order calling for a special legislative session to start at 2 p.m. Tuesday to consider legislation to set a new in-person voting date.
Conservative Justice Daniel Kelly did not participate in the ruling, as he is in a fiercely competitive contest for his seat on the high court against liberal Dane County Circuit Court Judge Jill Karofsky featured on Tuesday’s ballot.
Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Rebecca Dallet, who comprise the high court’s liberal-leaning faction, dissented from the majority decision. Dallet has endorsed Karofsky in her race against Kelly for a seat on the high court.
The state high court’s Monday ruling did not lay out any rationale for overturning Evers’ executive order, although it did note that more comprehensive opinions were coming at an unspecified time.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, issued a joint statement applauding the Supreme Court’s ruling, which they say affirms the separation of powers outlined the Wisconsin Constitution.
“The state’s highest court has spoken: the governor can’t unilaterally move the date of the election,” the legislators said.
The two Republican leaders stressed that “the safety and health of our citizens have always been our highest concern; that’s why we advocated for everyone to vote absentee.”
Despite a flood of roughly 1.3 million absentee ballots being cast as of Monday, as well as a broad chorus of state and national officials pleading for a cancellation of in-person voting to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the legislators “continue to believe that citizens should be able to exercise their right to vote at the polls on Election Day, should they choose to do so.”
“This election will proceed as planned,” they proclaimed.
As of Monday, the Badger State had tallied nearly 2,500 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including 85 deaths.
The governor’s office could not be immediately reached for comment on the high court’s move Monday evening.
The continuing whirlwind of action over Wisconsin’s pivotal primary election began anew midday Monday with Evers’ executive order, which called off all in-person voting for the primary and rescheduled it for June 9.
Evers had already called the Legislature into special session with a separate executive order on Thursday to work on canceling in-person voting on its own terms. That special session was supposed to take place on Saturday, but both chambers of the GOP-controlled Legislature convened and adjourned the special session within seconds without any discussion, a move they repeated Monday morning.
Citing the unprecedented challenges municipalities have had organizing a safe, secure primary in light of Covid-19’s spread, Evers said that “absent legislative or court action, I cannot in good conscience stand by and do nothing.”
“I have been asking everyone to do their part to help keep our families, our neighbors, and our communities safe, and I had hoped that the legislature would do its part — just as the rest of us are — to help keep people healthy and safe,” the governor said. “The bottom line is that I have an obligation to keep people safe, and that’s why I signed this executive order today.”