Prominent Democrats in the state, including the mayor of Milwaukee, urged voters to stay at home on Tuesday, as did some local health officials. Some Democrats blame Mr. Evers for letting the situation get out of hand, saying that his early refusal to push for a delay of the primary — instead proposing workarounds like deploying the National Guard to work at understaffed polling places — created electoral confusion.
All weekend, Mr. Evers’s aides and lawyers debated what authority he might have to postpone the election. On Monday morning, his team arrived at the argument he would make for a postponement and decided to announce it early in the day, expecting an immediate court challenge from Republicans.
The State Supreme Court, though technically nonpartisan, has a 5-2 conservative lean. But one of those justices, Daniel Kelly, is likely to recuse himself because he is up for re-election on Tuesday, meaning just one of the conservative members of the court would have to join the liberal judges to keep Mr. Evers’s order in place.
The state has also faced serious questions about its ability to run an election. With poll workers quitting out of fears of contracting the virus, more than 100 municipalities have said they lack enough staff to run even one polling place. Milwaukee typically has about 180 sites; this election the city plans to have five open. The head of the state elections commission raised the possibility in court testimony that some voters may have to head to a different town on Election Day because no one will be staffing the polls in their hometowns.
On Monday, the state’s already depleted ranks of election workers awaited word from the state courts as to whether the election could move forward.
In Green Bay — which said it would open only two polling locations instead of its usual 31 because more than 250 of its 270 poll workers said they would not be able to show up on Election Day — the mayor put plans on pause.
“Our clerk’s staff and our poll workers were preparing our two polling locations today, and I just had a conversation with my clerk today saying, ‘Hold, leave the equipment in place,’” said Mayor Eric Genrich. “We’re going to wait until our state courts weigh in and offer some further guidance.”
Reid J. Epstein and Astead W. Herndon contributed reporting.