April 9, 2020


Open Letter

Over the past week, I have received numerous questions and comments on the election this week. As I work through responding to the contacts, I wanted to take this opportunity to explain my position and provide some background on the issue.

It is no secret that we are experiencing unprecedented times. My position in favor of holding the election has been consistent. This was a more or less unanimous position held by all legislators as well as the governor up until a handful of days before the election was set to take place. Elections are essential and are the bedrock of our democracy. Everyone is aware that there was a Supreme Court race as well as a presidential primary on the ballot yesterday. There were also hundreds of other nonpartisan municipal offices on the ballot around the state. The terms of office for city and village officials expire on the third Tuesday in April, which this year is April 21st. State law defines the terms of office for these positions. The terms for most county officials are set by the state constitution. It is essential that these offices be occupied, especially during a public health emergency.

Because the consensus was to proceed with the election, myself, my colleagues and even Governor Evers encouraged every voter to request an absentee mail ballot should they desire one. Fortunately, Wisconsin does not require any special circumstances to request an absentee mail ballot. In fact, a voter can request a mail ballot for every election in the calendar year should they choose. Essentially, Wisconsin already operates under an optional mail ballot system. We saw this system utilized by over 1.2 million voters for the recent election. As of today, April 9th, 1.04 million absentee ballots have been returned.

When asked about postponing the election, my position has been consistent with Governor Evers that we should continue with the election. Governor Evers repeatedly made public statements in the last month in support of holding the election on April 7th. In his press conference on March 17, Governor Evers stated, “We also have important elections coming up and it’s imperative that our democracy continues. The good news is that in Wisconsin it is easy to request an absentee ballot. In fact, as of this morning, there are over 500,000 absentee ballot requests pending. To help facilitate this influx of requests, I have directed state agencies to support the WI Election Commission in any way that they can.”

When asked at that March 17th news conference why his administration was still planning on holding the election, Governor Evers said, “I just want to make sure people understand the complexity of our general election. It’s not a primary election so it’s only a primary election for the presidential candidates. We have lots of other non-partisan officials at the county and local level. So we have to weigh all of that. How long do we potentially leave offices not filled because we’re potentially into July or August and we haven’t held a general election? The good news is this, is that we have one of the easiest absentee ballot opportunities.”

Three days later in another news conference, Governor Evers stated, “People should vote absentee, it is the best and safest way to vote. The state election commission is working with local clerks to make sure they have what they need. But folks, I want to encourage you to request your absentee ballots now. Do not wait until the deadline on April 2nd.”

Governor Evers didn’t even consider altering the election until five days before the election. Politico pointed out on March 17th the difficulties of administering an election entirely by mail, https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/17/vote-by-mail-elections-coronavirus-134618.

I do not support moving to an election administered strictly by mail. Many voters still want to go to the polls on Election Day and any voter wishing to vote by mail may already request an absentee ballot for any reason. If you wish to vote by mail in November, I encourage you to visit MyVoteWI and request a ballot.

It is unfortunate that so much uncertainty and confusion was injected into this election, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court rightly agreed with Governor Evers when he indicated he didn’t have the legal authority to change the election date.

We knew this was going to be a stressful election given our circumstances, which is why every elected official on both sides of the aisle had been promoting absentee voting, especially by mail. The time to make any decision on changes to the administration of the election would have been weeks ago, not three days before the vote.

I want to finish by thanking all the dedicated professionals who were committed to operating a safe and efficient election in the face of much uncertainty. A huge debt of gratitude is also owed to our local clerks, the poll workers who volunteered their time, and the National Guard soldiers who assisted across the state. I had the privilege of working the polls in Richfield since my hometown of Germantown was already adequately staffed.