By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A state appeals court has denied Gov. Scott Walker’s request to delay a court order calling on him to schedule special elections to fill two legislative vacancies in no uncertain terms.
Walker has refused to order special elections to fill seats once occupied by Rep. Keith Ripp and Sen. Frank Lasee. The two lawmakers quit in December to join Walker’s administration, saying the elections would confuse voters and unnecessarily waste tax dollars, especially when regular elections are already scheduled to take place in the fall.
State law requires Walker to order special elections to fill seats that come open before May in any given election year. The governor was ordered last week by a judge in Madison to call the special elections by noon on Thursday.
The state Justice Department asked the 2nd District Court of Appeals on Wednesday morning to give Walker until April 6 to call the elections. The court denied the request Wednesday afternoon, writing that electing representatives is never a waste of tax dollars and Walker is required by law to order the requested special elections.
Even as Walker was fighting in court, his Republican allies in the Wisconsin Legislature were pushing to change state law in a way that would allow the governor to avoid calling special elections. The bill would prohibit special elections from being held after spring elections in years that also have fall legislative elections.
It also would allow special-election candidates to campaign longer and remove a requirement allowing only U.S. citizens to act as witnesses of someone casting a military or overseas ballot. Wisconsin is now the only state that requires that such witnesses be U.S. citizens. The bill also would let temporary overseas voters receive absentee ballots electronically.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told the Senate elections committee that voters living overseas need more time to return ballots.
Democratic Sen. Mark Miller questioned why Fitzgerald introduced the bill immediately following the judge’s order calling on Walker to hold special elections this year. Miller said Republicans’ proposal could leave residents of certain parts of the state without legislative representation.
Fitzgerald said people would still be represented, noting that Assembly and Senate districts overlap.
Walker has already pledged to sign the bill.
Democrats and other opponents maintain that Walker is trying to delay elections in the two districts because he senses a groundswell of Democratic momentum in the state. In January, the Democrat Patty Schachtner defeated the Republican Rep. Adam Jarchow in a special election for an open seat in a deeply red state Senate district in northwest Wisconsin. Walker called Schachtner’s win a wake-up call to Republicans.
The state Department of Justice, which is representing Walker in the court case, notified the 2nd District Court of Appeals on Wednesday that it would appeal Reynolds’ ruling.