MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Voting and civil rights groups on Monday ramped up the pressure on Gov. Tony Evers to postpone Wisconsin’s spring election because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has sickened hundreds of people throughout the state and led Milwaukee to call off in-person early voting.
The League of Women Voters, the Milwaukee branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera and Souls to the Polls, which helps black people vote, held a conference call with reporters to demand that Evers postpone the April 7 election until June. They said holding the election as planned would potentially expose tens of thousands of voters and poll workers to the virus.
“Our community will be forced to decide between their right to vote and their safety,” said the Rev. Gregory Lewis, who is president of Souls to the Polls and who noted that he tested positive for the virus. “This would just be a devastating blow to having folks come out to vote when they have to worry about what they have to eat and when their next paycheck will come. It’s just a mess.”
Evers’ spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the groups’ demands.
The call came a day after Milwaukee closed its three early in-person voting sites out of fear that workers could be exposed to the virus and nearly 225 local officials sent Evers a letter warning him that the state wasn’t doing enough to keep early in-person voters and poll workers safe.
The election includes the presidential primary, a state Supreme Court race and hundreds of local contests. A number of states have postponed their presidential primaries because of the coronavirus crisis, but Evers has resisted calls to delay Wisconsin’s election, saying democracy must go on and people should vote by mail-in absentee ballot.
Evers’ attorney, Ryan Nilsestuen, wrote a letter to Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe on Friday saying the Department of Administration was working to find more envelopes for absentee ballots. He also said officials were trying to find hand sanitizer for poll workers and were coordinating with volunteer organizations to recruit people to replace poll workers who fall ill or don’t show up.
Nearly 400 people had tested positive for the virus in Wisconsin as of Sunday. Four people have died.
Evers on Monday morning ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses beginning Tuesday. He previously ordered the closure of the state’s schools and several types of businesses, including bars, restaurants and hair salons. He also has limited gatherings to fewer than 10 people.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.