Hundreds of local leaders send letter to Gov. Evers calling for more action on election safety

    Voters casting ballots. | Mario Tama/Getty Images
    Voters casting ballots. | Mario Tama/Getty Images

    More than 200 local officials sent a letter to Gov. Tony Evers, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) calling the state’s efforts to ensure the safety of the April 7 election insufficient.

    The letter was a joint project between The League of Wisconsin Municipalities, the Wisconsin Towns Association and the Wisconsin Counties Association.

    The letter, signed by mayors, city managers, clerks, trustees and village presidents from across the state, states people are already showing up to government buildings to cast in-person absentee ballots and more are sure to show up on election day itself — despite Evers’ stay-at-home order set to be signed Tuesday. 

    “Local government leaders and each of the local government organizations have presented a number of options to various state offices for protecting citizens’ health and rights to vote,” the letter’s signatories say. “As yet we have not seen a sufficient response from the state. More needs to be done and done quickly.”

    But the letter doesn’t make any specific requests or suggestions for how the spring election should be held, it just asks that officials don’t force people to choose between their health and voting — driving down turnout in the process.

    “We recognize concerns about disenfranchisement, and we fully support our rules around elections in normal situations,” the letter states. “These are not normal circumstances — and the potential for disenfranchisement is actually higher if we proceed like we are. Many people will stay away from the polls for fear of contacting COVID-19, or spreading it, unless something changes. Please do not force citizens to choose between getting sick, or voting. Act now.”

     The local officials’ letter joins a larger call for electoral change during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    Last week, three mayors — two of which are also signatories of this letter — called for the state to move to an entirely vote-by-mail election while a group of 10 major advocacy groups wrote a letter that laid out steps to hold a fair and safe election. 

    But amid the mounting pressure to change the election, the Wisconsin Elections Commission has expressed its plans to go full steam ahead with in-person voting April 7. 

    As the calls for change grew louder, WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe wrote a letter to Evers asking for help gaining a supply of hand sanitizer for use at the polls, recruiting and training new poll workers and assigning a public health worker to guide the commission. 

    With two weeks left before the election, the only ways to change the date or voting method are action from the Legislature or a court order.

    Henry Redman
    Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.