2020 Daily Trail Markers: Wisconsin Supreme Court blocks moving Tuesday’s primary

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Monday blocked Governor Tony Evers’ executive order that would have suspended in-person voting for Tuesday’s scheduled election until June due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 4-2 ruling from the court puts voting back in place for Tuesday’s election. 

Evers’ executive order was calling for suspending in-person voting to June 9 “unless the Legislature passes and the Governor approves a different date for in-person voting.” In a press conference Monday, Evers said, “We expect more cases, we expect more deaths, we expect more tragedies.” He added, “With that in mind, I cannot in good conscience allow any type of gathering that would further the spread of this disease and to put more lives at risk.” 

“The state’s highest court has spoken: the governor can’t unilaterally move the date of an election,” Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, both Republicans, said in a statement applauding the court’s decision.

Due to the ongoing legal battle, Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe instructed clerks to continue preparing for the election Tuesday as planned. “If the election is moved to the 9th we will adjust accordingly, but all we can do today is prepare for tomorrow,” Wolfe said in a statement to municipal and county clerks.

On Friday, CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster says Evers asked the Wisconsin Legislature to hold a special session to take up a proposal that would have allowed the election to be conducted almost entirely by mail-in voting and pushed the deadline for voting until May. Lawmakers briefly gaveled in the session on Saturday and Monday, but didn’t take any action. Last week, Evers tweeted that he couldn’t change election without action from the legislature. “We have three branches of government to ensure a system of checks and balances, and questions about our elections typically rely on all three playing a role. If I could have changed the election on my own I would have but I can’t without violating state law,” Evers said at the time.

When asked by reporters how his order on Monday wasn’t a violation of state law, Evers said “circumstances have changed” due to a “dramatic increase” in the number coronavirus cases and deaths related to the virus. He also cited the shortage of poll workers leading to cities consolidating polling locations. “Anybody that can do basic math understands that if you have fewer places to serve the voters that you will have larger numbers at those sites,” Evers told reporters. “I believe that this falls under my ability to make sure that the security of the people of Wisconsin, which I do have obligations to maintain, are taken into account and that’s why I’m doing this today.”

FROM THE CANDIDATES

JOE BIDEN

CBS News political correspondent Ed O’Keefe confirms that President Trump and Joe Biden spoke on Monday regarding the federal government’s coronavirus response. A source familiar with the call confirmed that the two spoke Monday, but would not immediately provide any more details about the nature or length of the call or who initiated it. At the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing on Monday, Mr. Trump described the call as “wonderful” and “warm,” and said it lasted about 15 minutes. “It was really good,” Mr. Trump said about the call. Biden deputy campaign manager and communications director Kate Bedingfield said it was a “good call.” “Biden shared several suggestions for actions the Administration can take now to address the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and expressed his appreciation for the spirit of the American people in meeting the challenges facing the nation,” she said in a statement. 

CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson notes Biden connected with iMichigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a speculated VP choice. Whitmer joined him on the second episode of his campaign’s podcast. Biden called the governor “one of the most outstanding people” in the country. Whitmer jumped in and told Biden: “You can call me Gretchen.” After discussing how Whitmer is leading the response effort in her state for obtaining protective equipment and advocating for expanded use of the Defense Production Act in Michigan, the conversation turned more chatty. Whitmer said she wakes up around 5 a.m. to walk her dog, Kevin, and mentally prepares for her day with a cup of coffee. Biden joked his days are “not as tough as the governor’s,” as he said he rises around 8 a.m. and usually then works out on his Peloton. Afterward, he said he chugs a protein shake before his morning briefings. Signing off, the two continued their budding professional chemistry: Whitmer reminded Biden about eating his Fig Newtons when he was campaigning in Michigan. Biden called them one of his favorite snacks but “when in doubt” a PBJ sandwich will suffice. 

BERNIE SANDERS

Wondering why Bernie Sanders is still running for president? Here’s a clue: Our Revolution, the nonprofit political organization Sanders started in 2017 that critics refer to as a Super PAC, emailed members on Monday asking members to share if they believe Sanders should drop or stay in. Our Revolution articulated why he hasn’t yet conceded the nomination to Biden: They write that the party establishment would like Sanders to fade away. “Here’s why,” the email reads, “if delegates at this year’s convention fail to continue the reforms that we won in 2016, we could be back to business as usual – on superdelagates, caucus and primary voting rules, party registration, and much more. If Bernie remains in the race, he will undoubtedly be over the 25% threshold necessary to get enough members on the Rules and Platforms Committees who can fight for our vision of a progressive party.”

CBS News campaign reporter Cara Korte notes what’s also interesting is that the email noted Sanders may not be destined to become the nominee. “If Bernie stays in, then even if Biden is the nominee, we have a much better chance to fight for a more progressive Democratic platform and preserve vital reforms in the party’s nominating process,” it says. The 2020 Democratic primary is no longer a fight for the nomination; it is a fight for influence.

PRESIDENT TRUMP

The primary super PAC supporting Mr. Trump’s reelection campaign sent out a survey asking voters to weigh in on who they trusted more: Biden or recent Netflix sensation Joe Exotic.  CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga says the zookeeper-turned-convict also known as Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage appeared in an America First Action email on Monday to the President’s supporters. The star of a popular seven-part documentary series “Tiger King” earned a wild overnight following amid stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns, resulting in spiking Netflix viewership. The tongue-in-cheek poll by the Trump Super PAC is part of a digital engagement effort designed to “learn about our supporters,” according to America First Action spokesperson Kelly Sadler. “This was a fun one and topical. Most respondents said they trusted Joe Exotic more, but it was close,” Sadler said in a statement to CBS News.

The Trump campaign has launched a series of attacks on the likely Democratic nominee in recent days, hosting an inaugural “War Room Weekly!” digital livestream Sunday night, CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson reports. The program is designed to highlight the contrasts between the President and “the likely Democratic nominee Joe Biden,” according to Trump campaign Communications Director Tim Murtaugh.

LIFE AFTER 2020

ELIZABETH WARREN

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of Massachusetts alleged late last week that the Trump administration was using the coronavirus pandemic “as an excuse to undermine environmental regulations and impose a broad, across-the-board moratorium on environmental enforcement,” in a letter to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency released on Monday. CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak says that the senators asked for the rationale behind the EPA’s suspension of enforcement of several environmental laws the week prior.  An EPA spokesperson fired back that “the claims made by the senators are false” and that companies were allowed off the hook for routine monitoring only if the EPA deemed their noncompliance the result of the coronavirus pandemic. “This action was necessary to avoid tying up EPA staff time with questions about routine monitoring and reporting requirements and instead allow EPA to focus on continued protection of human health and the environment,” she said.

PRIMARILY CONCERNED

GEORGIA

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced Monday that his team will create a task force to investigate potential absentee ballot discrepancies ahead of the state’s primary election in May. The Absentee Ballot Fraud Task Force will be comprised of elections experts, district attorneys and solicitors general. CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell reports this move comes one week after the state began mailing absentee ballot request forms to every active Georgia voter, in an effort to expand voter access amid the coronavirus outbreak. Georgia was one of several states to push back its primary contest to mitigate the number of people gathering to vote in person. “Whether at the ballot box or the mailbox, America is founded on the principle that every citizen gets one vote,” said Raffensperger during a press conference Monday. “We all have equal power to choose our leaders. One person, one vote.”

Investigators will work with the task force to investigate every unresolved mismatch signature and interview voters with unaccounted for multiple votes from the same address. The group will also create rules for investigating non-residential addresses being used as registration addresses. Raffensperger added that he will take an additional step to request that the task force draft a law making it a crime to vote in a Georgia federal election at the same time as voting in another state’s election. While the Secretary of State’s office told Mitchell that the task force was being created so their team could be “vigilant” and take preventative measures against potential voter fraud, Georgia Democratic Party chairwoman Nikema Williams insists this move is an intimidation tactic to try to prevent people from voting. “We don’t have voter fraud in Georgia but we definitely have evidence of voter suppression,” said Williams, who is also a state senator. “It’s an attempt to intimidate and scare people away from exercising their constitutional right to vote if we are having…law enforcement looking at signatures. These are intimidation tactics to persuade people to not use absentee ballots and possibly not cast their ballots.”

Williams, who is recovering after testing positive for COVID-19, added that the creation of this task force comes at a time when voters are focusing on their health and wellness. “I’m one of those people that needs to do a mail-in ballot because I don’t want to — we don’t know what’s going to happen with this virus,” said Williams. “People need to be able to safely vote from their homes — as we have a shelter-in-place order on the books from our governor — so people need to shelter in place and vote by mail.”

ILLINOIS

A couple weeks removed from a whirlwind primary with absent election judges, missing voting machines and confusion about polling locations, Illinois State Board of Elections spokesperson Matt Dietrich told CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro that he thinks they made the right call to continue on with their election, along with Arizona and Florida. “However, this is two weeks ago, but it’s a totally, totally different world than what we were dealing with at that time,” he added. “I do think that if our primary had been on March 24 instead of March 17, you may have seen an effort on the part of our governor to seek a court order to push ours back as well.”

One of the biggest problems Dietrich pointed to during Illinois’ March 17 primary was the lack of election judges. “Recruiting judges is always a problem. This made it extreme,” Dietrich said about the effect of coronavirus, adding that it was most extreme in Chicago. He said if they were in the same position that their northern neighbors in Wisconsin are currently in, the system in Illinois may have made it easier to forcefully get more voters to vote by mail. Though when it came to recruiting local election judges, the only advice he could give to local election authorities was “to do their best. That’s all our local election authorities can do.”

Official overall turnout in the state has yet to be determined, though the estimates show about a mid-20 percent turnout. By comparison, 2012 had one of the lower turnouts with only 23.2 percent. “It’s not as if we had a catastrophic fall off. But I do think if our primary had been held on March 24, instead of March 17, you would have seen really a full court press at that point to get mail ballots to the voters,” Dietrich added. 

CAMPAIGN STRATEGY

HISTORY LESSON

In early March, while the remaining Democratic presidential contenders were sprinting across the country in search of primary victories, the coronavirus pandemic was taking its own destructive path through the nation. States with upcoming primaries were forced by the pandemic to reconsider a question from a century ago about how to keep the public safe at the ballot box. According to CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson, the last time a health emergency so imperiled American politics was in 1918, when the Spanish flu killed 675,000 Americans and was dubbed the “mother of all pandemics.” The flu peaked in October and November that year, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians, just days before the midterm elections on November 5.

CONNECTING DURING CORONAVIRUS

In Colorado, a pediatrician running for office is serving as a health resource for constituents and advocating for more protective gear; in Montana, a candidate running for statewide office has started holding story time for children online to give parents a break; and in a Senate race where the incumbent is facing a tight primary challenge, a new podcast is being launched to help connect with residents across the state. 

As COVID-19 paralyzes the nation, candidates across the country are facing unprecedented challenges with campaigning in a monumental election year. While traditional door-knocking and hosting town halls are off limits, CBS News political unit associate producers Sarah Ewall-WiceEleanor Watson and broadcast associate Aaron Navarro report these public- office seekers are coming up with innovative ways to make themselves known and stay connected with the people they wish to serve. “Campaigning is not what it was before, and nobody quite knows what exactly it’s going to be,” said Jean Sinzdak, Associate Director of the Center for American Women and Politics. “Basically, what we’ve heard from a lot of people is you know, ‘I don’t even know where to start’… this is uncharted territory for everybody. So how do you even begin to plan?”

GOVERNOR’S MANSION

HOMEBOUND

At least seven states remain without statewide “stay-at-home” orders, and CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro says some of their governors held firm in their stance during press conferences on Monday. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts said they were on a call with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, who told them they are “on the same page” with Fauci’s guidance. “We talked about the stay at home, shelter in place things that he’s been talking about on TV. We were concerned that his message was somehow getting confused with what we were doing. And we described what we were doing and that’s when he said, ‘Hey you can let people know that we’re all on the same page’ with regards to what we’re doing in our states and to what his message is about,” Ricketts said on Monday. 

On Face The Nation on Sunday, Fauci said states without stay-at-home orders are “putting the rest of the country at risk as much as they’re putting themselves at risk.” “So every time I get to that podium in the White House briefing room, Margaret, I always essentially plead with people to please take a look at those very simple guidelines of physical separation,” Fauci added. Ricketts said Fauci told him and Reynolds on Monday’s call that his comments were not meant to be a criticism, and that after hearing about their current orders in place, he did not directly recommend for them to issue a stay-at-home order. 

Fauci addressed the call with governors at a White House press briefing on Monday, and equated the current orders in Iowa and Nebraska to stay-at-home orders. “Just because they don’t have a very strict stay at home order, they have a lot of things in place that are totally compatible with what everyone else is doing,” he said. “They really are doing a very good job.”  

Under Ricketts, Nebraska is under a “Directive Health Measure” that closed schools, prohibited elective surgeries, limited restaurants to take-out or delivery and ordered those who are sick (along with their families) to stay at home. He said the directive is “very, very similar” with other current stay-at-home orders, though he is open to taking more restrictions in the future. “Obviously we will continue to reevaluate the data. The data so far seems to indicate that that our plans we have put into place is working,” he said. 

AD WARS

DIGITAL DOLLARS

The Democratic National Committee announced Monday it has reserved $22 million in YouTube advertisements for the general election, reports CBS News correspondent Nikole KillionThe digital campaign will launch in September across 14 battleground states, including Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Maine, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. “Now more than ever, it’s critical that we reach voters where they are online — and this digital program will help us mobilize the voters we need to make Donald Trump a one-term president,” said Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez. 

The ad buy marks the largest to date by a Democratic organization for the general election. It will feature masthead and bumper ads on YouTube and focus on get-out-the-vote efforts for the eventual nominee and Democrats across the ticket. “Before the coronavirus hit, the DNC was already preparing an aggressive general election online strategy, ” said Democratic National Committee chief mobilization officer Patrick Stevenson. “The pandemic has only reinforced the importance of communicating with voters across a wide range of online channels and utilizing a variety of innovative, data-driven digital tactics.” 

The Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign have invested heavily in a digital strategy for years, spending more than $23 million on Google and YouTube ads since 2018, according to party officials. “While the DNC is still playing catch-up, we will continue to spread the message about President Trump’s bold leadership that is protecting our country and saving American lives,” said RNC National Press Secretary Mandi Merritt.

PAC ATTACK

The House Majority PAC, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, announced a $51 million ad reservation in competitive House districts that overlap with Presidential and Senate battlegrounds. CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro reports that one of the main reasons for the head start was to secure the airtime and lower advertisement rates for areas like Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Atlanta. The PAC also requested to book $4.6 million in digital ads. “The 2020 election will be unlike any before it, presenting unique challenges and circumstances that make it even more important for our organization to take early steps that enable us to protect and expand the House Majority,” said the PAC’s executive director Abby Curran Horrell.   

In total, the PAC has 29 markets listed, with almost $5 million going to four markets in Texas, a battleground for House Democrats. The ad buy also includes about $4.5 million going to markets in Iowa, where House Democrats are looking to reelect freshmen Democrats Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer.  Republican Ashley Hinson, one of Finkenauer’s challengers, responded to the ad buy on Twitter by asking for donations. “Nancy Pelosi’s SUPER PAC reserved more than 2.2 Million $ of TV Time in the Cedar Rapids Market to try and save Congresswoman Finkenauer.  Will you give me 22$ today to help us fight back?”

In other House money news, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched a new television ad in California’s 25th district supporting Christy Smith. The ad criticized her Republican opponent Mike Garcia on preexisting conditions and drug prescription prices, and alluded to the coronavirus pandemic, “More than ever we need a leader who will put our health and safety first.” In Texas’ 7th district, Republican candidate Wesley Hunt reported a $920,000 fundraising haul for the first quarter of the year. By comparison, he raised about $1.3 million in all of 2019. 

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