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Legislature doesn’t act on Gov. Evers’ special session to stop in-person voting

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Governor Evers' call for a special session fell through Saturday as Republicans leaders didn’t act on his proposals to make changes to the primary election.  Evers wanted to prevent people from going to the polls Tuesday due to the coronavirus.

In a last-minute effort to prevent thousands of people from voting in-person on Tuesday, Governor Evers signed an executive order Friday calling for the legislature to convene in special session Saturday to vote to delay the election. 

Republican leaders who control the legislature signaled on Friday they wouldn't take up Evers' proposals and on Saturday gaveled into session without taking any votes. 

The Capitol was essentially a ghost town. Hardly any lawmakers showed up, even as the Department of Administration opened the Capitol to the public for the session. The Capitol has recently been closed to the public to limit the spread of the coronavirus

One lawmaker who did show up ready to vote in the Senate chambers was Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee).

“It is cowardice and a dereliction of duty for the “Do Nothing Republican State Legislature” to refuse to attend Governor Evers’ special session to postpone our April 7th election,” said Sen. Carpenter.

Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-West Point) was also there on Saturday and said while his disappointed he's optimistic as the session remains open until Monday, meaning lawmakers can still act until then.

"I'm hopeful that this is a sign we can still get this done and delay the election," said Erpenbach. "Not to sound overly dramatic, its an issue of life or death."

For weeks GOP leaders rejected any calls to postpone the election arguing democracy must go on and people should still have the right to cast a ballot. 

“Hundreds of thousands of workers are going to their jobs every day, serving in essential roles in our society. There’s no question that an election is just as important as getting take-out food," Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a joint statement on Friday.

Evers was asking lawmakers to move to an all-mail election, send absentee ballots to every registered voter and extend the deadline when those ballots could be returned until May 19th.

This marked the first time Evers asked to delay the election, breaking from Republicans after agreeing with them previously that the election should go on as scheduled.

“Republicans in the Legislature are playing politics with public safety and ignoring the urgency of this public health crisis. It’s wrong. No one should have to choose between their health and their right to vote," Evers wrote in a statement.

Evers added he hopes Republicans will still act to vote on his proposal to extend the election date and allow people to vote absentee from home.

Without action from lawmakers on Evers' proposal, the election is still scheduled for Tuesday.

More than a dozen other states have postponed their primary elections due to concerns of the safety of poll workers and the public as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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