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With Public Health and Democracy at Stake, Wisconsin Governor Issues Order Postponing In-Person Primary Voting Until June

"The chaos in Wisconsin is exhibit A for why US needs to adopt universal vote by mail."

 A sign marks the location of a polling place on August 14, 2018 in Janesville, Wisconsin.

 A sign marks the location of a polling place on August 14, 2018 in Janesville, Wisconsin. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Monday issued an order suspending in-person voting in the state's primary elections, scheduled for Tuesday, calling the risk of sending voters to the polls in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak an unacceptable choice forced on Wisconsinites between "exercising their constitutional right to vote and being safe, secure, and healthy."

The order (pdf) postpones the date of in-person voting in the election to June 9.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Evers—a Democrat—referred to attempts over the weekend by himself and other state lawmakers to change the voting date which were defeated by the Republican-led state legislature. 

"At the end of the day, this is about the people of Wisconsin," said Evers. "They frankly don't care much about Republicans and Democrats fighting. They're scared. We have the surgeon general saying this is Pearl Harbor. It's time to act."

"Imagine if the GOP was as committed to public health as it is to stopping people from voting in Wisconsin!" tweeted lawyer Marc Elias in response to state Republicans fighting to keep the election on Tuesday.

As Common Dreams reported earlier Monday, a group of 10 Wisconsin mayors sent an open letter to the state's Department of Health Services asking the agency to use emergency powers to shut down voting in the state due to the outbreak. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, has also called on state officials to postpone in-person voting. Sanders' remaining rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, opined on April 2 that voting in person could be safe if booths were disinfected and cleaned between voters. 

The order will likely face legal challenges. Whether or not Evers has the power to change the date of the election has been a hotly contested question throughout the process.

"I just absolutely believe the people of Wisconsin are ready for this and will embrace it, and I'm counting on the judicial system to feel the same," Evers told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "Regardless of the legal issues, I absolutely have the belief that the governor has to step up and stand up for those people. No one else is."

Mother Jones reporter Ari Berman, a voting rights expert, said in a tweet that the lessons from the Wisconsin debacle for American elections should not be ignored.

"The chaos in Wisconsin is exhibit A for why US needs to adopt universal vote by mail and every state should send a ballot to all registered voters," said Berman, "or else we'll see voter suppression on an unprecedented scale in November."

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