Gov. Tony Evers will have to reschedule the special election to fill the vacant 7th Congressional District seat following concerns his original date violated federal law.
Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said the issue was raised by the U.S. Department of Justice, which found Evers’ special election schedule violated federal law that requires at least 45 days between a primary and general election for overseas absentee ballots.
“It is certain that the election date will have to change,” Baldauff said, adding that the governor is consulting state and federal departments of justice to find an appropriate date. A date had not been selected as of Tuesday.
Evers called for the special election on Sept. 23, the same day U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Weston, resigned the position. The election was set for Jan. 27 and the primary for Dec. 30.
However, state law, which requires 28 days between a primary and election, does not mesh with the federal 45-day rule, making for an “impossible” scenario, Baldauff said.
Dean Knudson, chairman of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said state and federal laws haven’t aligned since 2011, when the Legislature moved state primary elections from September to August to comply with a 2009 federal law that was established to allow military and overseas voters more time to file absentee ballots.
That law change did not apply to special elections, and Knudson said this is the first time the state has held a special election for a federal office since the law changed.
Commission spokesman Reid Magney said commission staff consulted with the governor’s office on what dates might work for a special election and primary. Magney said the governor was made aware of the 45-day rule.
Commission staff offer options, but don’t make recommendations, Magney added.
Knudson said the commission itself was not consulted.
“The governor chose poorly in his choice of the election date,” Knudson said.
Baldauff and Knudson said legislation will be necessary to address the difference between state and federal laws.
“I think there’s still time for that to be fixed this fall,” Knudson said. “Instead of sending press releases back and forth, the governor and Legislature could get together and fix this.”
In the meantime, rescheduling the special election comes with limitations.
State law says the earliest a primary can be held is 92 days from the governor’s order. But 92 days from Monday, the day Duffy resigned, would be Dec. 24, Christmas Eve.
What’s more, Evers can’t push the election back much beyond that; the state has a “blackout period” on special elections between Feb. 1 through April 7.
In a statement last week, Evers said the special election was to “occur quickly to ensure the people of the 7th Congressional District have representation as soon as possible.”
On Friday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, requested Evers reschedule the special election, citing that the Dec. 30 primary would coincide with the final day of Hanukkah.
Baldauff said the decision to move the special election date was not influenced by Vos’ request.
Duffy announced his resignation in August, citing complications with the baby his wife is due to deliver this month. He had served the northern Wisconsin district for more than eight years.
State Sen. Tom Tiffany, Army veteran Jason Church and Edgar-based farmer Michael Opela Sr., all Republicans, have announced their candidacies.
The winner of the special election will serve through the end of 2020 and have to run again in the November 2020 election in order to serve a full two-year term.
Wisconsin’s 7th District covers all or parts of 20 central, northern and northwestern Wisconsin counties and is the state’s largest congressional district geographically. In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney carried the district with 51% of the vote, compared with 48% that went to then-President Barack Obama. In 2016, Republican Donald Trump won it 57% to 37% over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.