MADISON (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers plans to change the date of the special election for an open congressional seat because he was told by the U.S. Department of Justice that the dates he set last week violated federal law.
The original dates set by Evers, a Democrat, avoided potentially boosting GOP turnout in a state Supreme Court election set for April 7. The congressional seat is in a heavily Republican district that President Trump won by 20 points in 2016.
But now, Evers is considering holding the special congressional election primary on the same day in February as the primary in the Supreme Court race. He's also considering holding the general election on the same day in April, his spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, said Tuesday.
Having the special congressional election in the strong Republican district on the same day as the Supreme Court election could be a boost to incumbent Justice Dan Kelly, part of the 5-2 conservative majority who is running for a full 10-year term next year.
The special election is to replace Republican Sean Duffy, who resigned Sept. 23. That day, Evers set the special election for Jan. 27, with the primary scheduled for Dec. 30 — far before the Supreme Court election dates.
Those dates were in compliance with state law, which requires special election primaries to be 28 days before the general election. But they conflict with federal law, which requires a 45-day gap to allow time for military and overseas voters to receive ballots.
That conflict created an "impossible situation," Baldauff said. Evers is in consultation with the state and federal departments of justice to set the new special election dates, she said.
"We want to announce something as soon as we can," she said. "We just want to make sure there won't be any additional confusion for municipal workers, the voters and the candidates."
Evers is considering two different scenarios, both of which would move the general election to April or May.
Under one, the general election would be held April 7, the same day as the state's presidential primary and state Supreme Court election. The primary for the special election would be Feb. 4, two weeks before the primary for the Supreme Court race and a host of local offices.
Under the other scenario, the primary would be Feb. 18, which is the date of the primary for the state Supreme Court race. The general election for the special congressional election would then be May 5.
Evers can't align the special election with the same primary and general election dates as the regularly scheduled state spring elections because of timelines in federal law for certifying the results and having ballots available, Baldauff said.
The Wisconsin Legislature in 2011 changed the date of the state's primary for fall elections from September to August to be in compliance with the 2009 federal law giving military and overseas voters more time to vote. But the Legislature did not change the law relative to special elections, creating the conflict for this race. This is the first time the issue has come up in Wisconsin since the federal law changed in 2009.
On Friday, state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos asked Evers to change the election dates because the Dec. 30 primary would fall on the final day of Hanukkah. Baldauff said the decision to change the dates had nothing to do with the Vos request.
Three Republicans have announced their candidacies in the heavily GOP district that covers central, northern and northwestern Wisconsin. They are Tom Tiffany, a state senator from Minocqua, Jason Church, an Army veteran who lost both his legs in Afghanistan and worked as an aide to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, and Michael Opela Sr., who lives on a hobby farm in Edgar.
Church said in a statement that "Evers' political motivations have resulted in chaos and uncertainty for voters."
Tiffany said in a statement that "it is imperative that all military and overseas voters have the opportunity to vote," and he's prepared to win no matter the election date. Opela did not immediately respond to a request for comment.