President Halimah assents to draw on $21 billion from past reserves for historic Resilience and Solidarity Budgets

SINGAPORE – President Halimah Yacob has given her assent to the Resilience and Solidarity Budgets, including a draw of up to $21 billion from Singapore’s past reserves.

Assenting to the revised Supplementary Supply Bill on Thursday (April 9), an act which formally authorises the Resilience and Solidarity Budgets announced in March and April respectively, Madam Halimah said the Government’s support measures should be rolled out quickly given the escalating Covid-19 pandemic, which has impacted economies, societies and livelihoods.

“It is important that we cushion this impact for Singaporeans, and help everyone tide through this challenging period,” she said in a Facebook post.

“The situation is still extremely fluid, so it is important that we implement the measures well, yet remain responsive to the changing needs on the ground.”

On Monday, an additional $5.1 billion was announced to cushion the impact of the Covid-19 circuit breaker measures, which will see most businesses and all schools shuttered until May 4.

Together with the Unity Budget announced in February, the Resilience and Solidarity Budgets have some $59.9 billion in support measures to deal with the impact of the outbreak.

The country will chalk up its largest Budget deficit ever at $44.3 billion. Both the size and close timing of the announcements are unprecedented in Singapore’s history.

Madam Halimah, who as President is responsible for protecting Singapore’s past reserves, has held several rounds of discussions with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat since February.

While they agreed there was no need to draw on past reserves then, given the scale of the support package envisaged at the time, the issue was revisited in March after the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a global pandemic. The President gave her in-principle support to draw on past reserves to fund part of the second support package.

Following the spike in local cases in late March and early April, she discussed with PM Lee and Mr Heng the need to provide additional support, in view of the further economic impact caused by the impending circuit breaker measures.

After Parliament debated and passed the revised Supplementary Supply Bill on April 7, the Supply Bill was sent to Madam Halimah for assent.

Following her assent, the Bill will be enacted into a law called the Supply Act, which controls the Government’s spending in the coming financial year.

This will be the second time the Government has drawn on past reserves and the largest amount to date, eclipsing the $4.9 billion then President S R Nathan approved during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.

“We are able to do this decisively because of the substantial reserves built up over the years,” said Madam Halimah. “We should be thankful for the discipline of our forebears in spending prudently and saving up in the past.”

This year’s Budget and two waves of supplementary measures have seen new and enhanced schemes relating to jobs and wage support, cash handouts to households to defray living expenses, and help for the self-employed.

Examples include a Jobs Support Scheme to cover 75 per cent of all local employees’ wages this month, up to a salary ceiling of $4,600, and a Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme that will disburse $9,000 in cash over nine months to eligible self-employed people.

Last Friday, Madam Halimah had said that the next few weeks will be critical in the fight against Covid-19.

“It is crucial that all of us comply with safe distancing measures, even though they may be inconvenient in the near term,” she said.

Urging Singaporeans to stay home to stay safe, she added: “If we stand united as a nation, I am confident that we will be able to weather this storm together and emerge stronger as one people.”

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Premier grants Easter Bunny special ‘eggs-emption’ as holidays shift under COVID-19

The Easter Bunny will be allowed to break the COVID-19 rules this weekend while everyone else is bending the curve.

Premier John Horgan has authorized a special essential service “eggs-emption” for the Easter Bunny to enter people’s homes and break physical-distancing rules to deliver Easter chocolates across the province.

“Dear Easter Bunny, I am pleased to welcome you to our province for your annual egg-delivery duties,” the premier’s declaration reads.

“This year, we’re all looking out for our loved ones and festivities look quite different. I know that you’re also taking extra care, so even if you can’t make it to every home, I want to thank you for sharing your positive spirit and happiness with kids and families across the province.”

It was the premier inserting some humour in the midst of a serious plea from health officials to celebrate the holidays differently to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Henry told her daily news conference later that day that group celebrations inside the home are not advised.

“When we know that this virus continues to circulate in our communities, coming together of even small groups can be very problematic,” she said.

The province is urging people not to visit cabins and cottages over the long weekend, and to avoid all non-essential travel altogether.

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Bernie Sanders suspends 2020 Democratic presidential campaign

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign on Wednesday, making former Vice President Joe Biden the presumptive nominee to face Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election.

“The path toward victory is virtually impossible,” Sanders said in a livestreamed speech to supporters from his hometown of Burlington, Vermont.

“I have concluded that this battle for the Democratic nomination will not be successful. And so today, I am announcing the suspension of my campaign.”

The 78-year-old U.S. senator from Vermont, a democratic socialist whose progressive agenda pulled the party sharply to the left, shot to an early lead in the Democratic race. But he faded quickly after losing South Carolina in late February as moderate Democrats consolidated their support behind Biden.

The departure of Sanders, the last remaining rival to Biden, sets up a race between the 77-year-old former vice president and Trump, 73, who is seeking a second four-year term in office.

Sanders’ decision comes as the country grapples with a coronavirus outbreak that upended the nominating schedule, with some primaries postponed and others up in the air.

Sanders, who also mounted an unexpectedly strong challenge in 2016 to eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, had been under pressure to halt his campaign after Biden won resounding victories in primary contests on March 17 in Florida, Arizona and Illinois.

Some allies had encouraged Sanders to stay in the race to further influence Biden’s policy positions. But the coronavirus crisis shifted public focus away from the campaign and, with all rallies canceled, Sanders had little opportunity to get his message across.

Trump, who has courted Sanders supporters and said the senator was treated unfairly by the Democratic Party, reacted quickly on Twitter.

“This ended just like the Democrats & the DNC wanted, same as the Crooked Hillary fiasco. The Bernie people should come to the Republican Party, TRADE!,” Trump wrote.

Many of Sanders’ policy positions have become part of the mainstream Democratic Party debate, including his Medicare for All proposal that would create a government-run healthcare system to replace the current blend of private medical insurance and public programs. He also advocated a $15 minimum wage, tuition-free public colleges and higher taxes on the wealthy.

“Our movement has won the ideological struggle in so-called red states, blue states, and purple states,” Sanders said.

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Boris Johnson treatment: What treatment is Boris Johnson receiving in ICU?

During the daily press conference from Downing Street, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains in intensive care at St Thomas’ Hospital but is “improving” and has been sitting up in bed and engaging with his clinical team. The Prime Minister was transferred to the ICU on Monday evening after his coronavirus symptoms worsened.

What treatment is Boris Johnson receiving in ICU?

Boris Johnson is “responding to treatment” as he remains in a stable condition in the intensive care unit where he is being treated for coronavirus, Downing Street has said.

The Prime Minister continued to be in “good spirits” on Wednesday after spending his third night in St Thomas’s Hospital in London, his official spokesman said.

Mr Johnson was said to no longer be working while following the advice of doctors and receiving just the “standard oxygen treatment” and “breathing without any other assistance”.


  • Coronavirus UK: Britons hit the pubs and clubs despite warnings

When asked about further specifics about his condition or treatment, the spokesman said the update includes all the information the PM’s medical team “considers to be clinically relevant”.

A spokesman had also said on Wednesday: “The prime minister remains clinically stable and is responding to treatment.

“He continues to be cared for in the intensive care unit at St Thomas’ hospital. He is in good spirits.”

On Tuesday, Downing Street said Mr Johnson was receiving standard oxygen treatment and breathing without assistance.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab again chaired the daily COVID-19 meeting on Wednesday morning as he deputises for Mr Johnson.

Asked if anyone has been in contact with the Prime Minister, a spokesman said: “The PM is not working, he’s in intensive care, he has the ability to contact those that he needs to, he’s following the advice of his doctors at all times.”

He added Downing Street was “hugely grateful” for the messages of support that Mr Johnson has received as he undergoes treatment.

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Long lines and frustration as Wisconsinites vote during coronavirus pandemic

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – Despite a last-minute court battle and a stay-at-home order, thousands of Wisconsin voters on Tuesday braved the coronavirus outbreak to wait 6 feet (1.8 m) apart in lines for hours and cast ballots in the state’s presidential primary and local elections.

Some Wisconsinites who had requested absentee ballots said they never received them, forcing them to choose between risking their health to cast a ballot in person or forgoing their right to vote.

The confusion and frustration among the Midwestern state’s residents – as well as the 11th-hour legal wrangling over whether to hold the election during a public health emergency – served as a sobering preview of what may await other states, or the country as a whole, if the pandemic persists.

The general election that will determine the next president – Republican President Donald Trump or a Democratic challenger – is scheduled for Nov. 3.

In Wisconsin, more than half of municipalities reported shortages of poll workers, prompting the state to call up 2,400 National Guard troops to assist.

Outside Riverside High School in Milwaukee – where officials closed all but five of the city’s 180 voting sites for a lack of poll workers – masked voters stood in a line that stretched for several blocks.

In Green Bay, poll workers sat behind Plexiglas barriers. In Madison, election officials urged voters to bring their own pens – black or blue ballpoint, if possible, because other colors or types of ink could flummox ballot-counting machines.

More than a dozen states have postponed nominating elections in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has transformed Americans’ daily lives.

On Monday, Wisconsin’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, ordered the election postponed until June despite having previously said he lacked the authority to do so. But the state Supreme Court reversed his order in a ruling late on Monday after Republican legislative leaders challenged Evers’ decision.

Separately, in another Republican challenge, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday overturned a federal judge’s decision extending absentee voting for six days, instead ruling all ballots had to be postmarked by Tuesday.

That decision forced Jennifer Archer, 35, to don a mask and gloves and head to the polls in Milwaukee after her absentee ballot did not show up.

“I know several people who also never got their ballots,” she said. “They had the option of coming out and hoping for the best, or sit this election out, but I didn’t see that as an option.”

Others were not able to vote at all. Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich said in a phone interview that his wife, who is immunocomprised, never got her absentee ballot and could not risk voting in person.

Hannah Gleeson, a 34-year-old healthcare worker who is 17 weeks pregnant, recently tested positive for the coronavirus. She is self-quarantining at home and last week requested an absentee ballot that has yet to arrive.

“I don’t, at this point, have a way to vote. It’s really despicable and voter suppression at its finest,” she said.

State records showed around 9,400 ballots had not been mailed as of Tuesday morning.

“Frustrating doesn’t even begin to cover it,” Satya Rhodes-Conway, Madison’s Democratic mayor, said in an interview. “The fact that the legislature has refused to take any action is just reprehensible.”

She said Madison opened 66 of its 92 normal polling sites after recruiting 1,400 replacement poll workers. The city shifted dozens of employees to the clerk’s office from other departments in recent weeks to help prepare for the election.


The legal maneuvering over the election overshadowed Wisconsin’s Democratic presidential primary, the first nominating contest since March 17 in the race to pick a challenger to Trump.

Former Vice President Joe Biden holds a commanding lead over rival U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. The pandemic has forced both candidates off the campaign trail.

Wisconsin election results will not be released until next Monday, the deadline for absentee ballots postmarked by Tuesday to be received.

Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, said Tuesday’s crowded polling sites were particularly risky for African-American voters, who are already seeing a higher incidence of coronavirus infections and fatality rates in Milwaukee, according to public health data.

Some cities resorted to “drive-through” voting. In Beloit, poll workers brought ballots to drivers’ windows to be completed.

In the village of Somerset, clerk Felicia Germaine said turnout appeared to be lower than usual. Strips of tape on the ground helped voters maintain distance.

“It’s almost like a big game of adult hopscotch,” said Cherie Link, a candidate for the state Senate this autumn who volunteered as a poll worker on Tuesday.

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Coronavirus: Claims of power vacuum as PM battles COVID-19 while in intensive care

Senior cabinet ministers are facing questions about who is making the big decisions in government while Boris Johnson battles coronavirus in intensive care.

After England’s chief medical officer suggested mistakes had been made in the UK’s approach to testing, a strategy for increasing the number of COVID-19 tests is a key issue confronting the cabinet in the prime minister’s absence.

But the biggest dilemma for ministers is how and when to end the coronavirus lockdown.

Dominic Raab, the PM’s stand-in, has refused to confirm whether a decision on easing restrictions would be taken on Easter Monday – and he suggested it could be delayed.

There are now claims of a power vacuum at the heart of government after Downing Street revealed there are strict limitations on Mr Raab’s powers while he is deputising for Mr Johnson in key meetings.

There are also doubts in Whitehall about whether critical decisions on the lockdown can be taken without Mr Johnson’s input.

Mr Raab, who is first secretary of state as well as foreign secretary, has struggled to answer questions on whether he has the authority to change course.

Some MPs are calling for a caretaker prime minister to be appointed – and Lord Heseltine, who was deputy prime minister under John Major, has called for greater clarity on the powers handed to Mr Raab.

“There must come a time when a deputy is effectively prime minister,” Lord Heseltine told The Daily Telegraph. “I don’t think we’ve probably quite got to that now.

“But the present urgency of the situation and the potential decisions that may need to be taken does mean that Dominic Raab will have to use his discretion and know when to act.”

When Mr Johnson announced the lockdown in his TV address on 23 March, he said it would be reviewed after three weeks.

But at the latest Downing Street news conference, Mr Raab said: “We’re not at that stage yet.”

After two nights in intensive care battling the virus, Mr Johnson’s condition is stable and he is in good spirits, according to Number 10. He is receiving oxygen but is not on a ventilator and does not have pneumonia.

Calling the PM “a colleague and a friend”, Mr Raab said: “I’m confident he’ll pull through because if there’s one thing I know about this prime minister, he’s a fighter and he’ll be back at the helm leading us through this crisis in short order.”

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Colorado lawmakers could return to the Capitol as early as May after breaking for coronavirus

Colorado lawmakers are hopeful that they’ll be back at the Capitol as early as May, but they caution that it will depend on the advice of experts and whether the state’s state-at-home order is still in place.

“We’re not driving this,” said Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo. “This is being driven by a disease process we don’t yet have our hands around.”

That means balancing the public’s health and safety with ensuring an essential part of democracy is preserved, he said.

The state Constitution mandates that the Colorado budget be finalized by June 30, and school districts need funding through the School Finance Act to be finalized by June 1 so they can create their own budgets.

Both chambers’ leaders plan to meet at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Capitol to discuss plans, including remote testimony options. Staff members previously informed leaders that they did not have the setup to conduct all operations remotely, but lawmakers told The Denver Post on Tuesday that they’re open to alternate plans as they relate to the Joint Budget Committee — which does not take public testimony — if that ends up being the best solution.

Now that the state Supreme Court has decided that the legislature can continue its 120-day session past its initial May 6 end date, Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert said lawmakers will have to decide exactly how to count those days and determine how many are left.

Those discussions, the Parker Republican said, may be frustrating to Coloradans who are just hoping to get back to some semblance of normalcy and recover from the pandemic, but because the General Assembly operates on a specific timeline, making that clear is necessary. Then, lawmakers will be able focus on priorities and how to move forward.

Holbert said some members of his caucus are eager to get back in session to do the people’s work, and while he respects that, he said it’s also important respect the governor’s stay-at-home order and advice of public health experts.

That’s why House Speaker KC Becker wanted to have a public discussion Wednesday about the possibilities moving forward. Members of the public will be able to listen in through the General Assembly’s website.

“We just have to be flexible about timing and about schedule and what we can get done,” said Becker, D-Boulder. “If COVID is still really bad in mid-May, we’re going to have much more limited time in the Capitol.”

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Acting U.S. Navy secretary offers to resign over handling of coronavirus-hit carrier

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Acting U.S. Navy Secretary Thomas Modly has offered his resignation following criticism of his handling of a crisis involving the captain of a coronavirus-stricken aircraft carrier, two U.S. officials and a congressional aide told Reuters on Tuesday.

It was unclear whether Defense Secretary Mark Esper accepted Modly’s resignation offer. Democrats in Congress had called for his removal, citing a loss of confidence.

Two U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Modly had offered his resignation after meeting with Esper earlier today.

A third official, who also declined to be identified, said that the plan was for Acting Undersecretary of the Army James McPherson to succeed Modly.

Esper’s office and the Navy declined to comment.

Modly’s offer follows the public disclosure of a surprise speech he made on Monday to the crew of the Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, in which he defended his decision to fire their commander, Captain Brett Crozier, and ridiculed him.

Crozier was revered by his crew for writing a letter that leaked publicly calling for stronger action from the Navy to help stem an outbreak of coronavirus infections aboard his ship.

Earlier on Tuesday, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi added her voice to calls for Modly’s removal.

“Sadly, Acting Secretary Modly’s actions and words demonstrate his failure to prioritize the force protection of our troops,” Pelosi said in a statement.

A fellow Democrat, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, had already called for Modly’s removal.

Smith told reporters on a conference call it was hard to imagine Navy members having respect for Modly, after his remarks about Crozier.

Crozier, who took command of the Theodore Roosevelt in November, wrote a four-page letter describing a bleak situation aboard the carrier as more of his crew began falling ill.

He was relieved of his position after his letter became public, prompting an outcry. Modly made a surprise address to the ship’s crew on Monday, saying Crozier was either “too naive or too stupid” to command the carrier, heightening the controversy.

Modly apologized on Monday, but Pelosi and Smith said that was not enough to overcome what they described as his highly inappropriate comments.

His apology did little to mollify the crew on the carrier.

“He said what he said and nobody is going to forget it,” a sailor on the carrier told Reuters.

As of Tuesday, 230 of about 5,000 personnel on the Theodore Roosevelt have tested positive for the coronavirus.

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Long lines and drive-through voting as Wisconsinites brave coronavirus at polls

DELOIT, Wis./SOMERSET, Wis. (Reuters) – Wisconsin voters faced long lines at limited polling locations on Tuesday, as the Midwestern state’s presidential primary and local elections moved ahead despite mounting fears about the coronavirus outbreak.

Outside Riverside High School in Milwaukee – where officials were forced to close 175 of 180 normal voting sites due to a lack of poll workers – masked voters stood several feet apart in a line that stretched for several blocks early on Tuesday, according to videos and photos posted on Twitter.

More than half of Wisconsin’s municipalities reported shortages of poll workers, prompting the state to call up 2,400 National Guard troops to assist.

The election took place even though Wisconsin, like most U.S. states, has imposed a stay-at-home order on its residents. More than a dozen other states have postponed their elections in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has transformed Americans’ daily lives and plunged the economy into an apparent recession.

Some Wisconsin cities resorted to “drive-through” voting. In Beloit, a city of about 37,000 people along the Illinois border, poll workers brought ballots to drivers’ windows after verifying photo identification and residency, then returned the filled-out paperwork to a counting machine.

Phillip Thomas, 70, and his wife Kathy Thomas, 65, had filled out absentee ballots – but as new Wisconsin residents, they were unclear on how to handle the witness requirement. They were relieved to learn that Beloit was doing a drive-through system and brought their ballots to the polling site to make sure they were counted.

“We were afraid we were going to have to vote in person,” said Thomas, who blamed state Republicans for quashing a bid to postpone the election. “We felt it was important.”

A flurry of 11th-hour legal wrangling failed to stop the balloting, as two late court rulings on Monday put the election, which will include Democratic and Republican presidential primaries and voting for thousands of state and local offices, back on track after days of uncertainty.

In deciding separate lawsuits brought by Republicans, the state Supreme Court blocked Democratic Governor Tony Evers’ order to delay the election until June and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal judge’s decision extending absentee voting, instead ruling ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday to be counted.

“Now voters will be forced to choose between their health and their right to vote, an untenable choice that responsible public officials tried to avoid,” said Satya Rhodes-Conway, the Democratic mayor of Madison, Wisconsin.

The legal maneuvering overshadowed the Democratic presidential primary in Wisconsin, the first nominating contest held since March 17 in the race to pick a challenger to Republican President Donald Trump for the Nov. 3 election. The outbreak has pushed front-runner Joe Biden and rival Bernie Sanders off the campaign trail.

Former Vice President Biden has built a nearly insurmountable lead over Senator Sanders in the delegates who will pick the nominee at the national convention this summer. The convention, scheduled to be held in Milwaukee, has been postponed to August from July by the pandemic.

After a late-night meeting on Monday, the Wisconsin Elections Commission said no results of Tuesday’s voting would be released until April 13, the deadline for absentee ballots postmarked by Tuesday to be received.

The commission said in a blog post on Tuesday morning that no county had reported any problems, including any polling places that were unable to open.

In the village of Somerset, where two National Guard members were stationed, clerk Felicia Germaine said turnout appeared to be significantly lower than usual. Voters gave each other space while waiting, thanks to strips of tape on the ground to encourage social distancing.

“It’s almost like a big game of adult hopscotch,” said Cherie Link, a candidate for state Senate who was volunteering as a poll worker.

In Milwaukee, the health commissioner in Wisconsin’s biggest city, Jeanette Kowalik, asked voters to wear masks, avoid reusing pens and stand at least six feet apart.

“I’m sorry, I wish I had the authority to protect us from this,” she wrote on Twitter.

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Wisconsin's Democratic governor seeks delay of Tuesday's election, Republicans challenge move

(Reuters) – Democratic Governor Tony Evers moved on Monday to postpone Wisconsin’s primary election from Tuesday until June 9, citing health risks from the coronavirus pandemic, but Republicans said they would challenge the order in the state Supreme Court.

The late postponement came after the Republican-controlled legislature rejected Evers’ call last week to cancel in-person voting on Tuesday and extend the time to return absentee ballots into late May.

“Absent legislative or court action, I cannot in good conscience stand by and do nothing. The bottom line is that I have an obligation to keep people safe, and that’s why I signed this executive order today,” Evers said in a statement.

Republican legislative leaders said Evers did not have the authority to postpone the election and moved quickly to block his executive order in court.

“The clerks of this state should stand ready to proceed with the election. The governor’s executive order is clearly an unconstitutional overreach,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a joint statement.

“Governor Evers can’t unilaterally run the state,” they said.

Like much of the country, Wisconsin residents are under orders to stay at home and public gatherings are banned to limit exposure to the coronavirus. Fears about infection have led to a shortage of poll workers and an explosion in requests for absentee ballots.

Some state officials had warned of potential chaos if the voting went ahead. Concerns about the coronavirus have left nearly 60% of the state’s municipalities with a shortage of poll workers, causing the consolidation of many polling sites, and more than 100 without staff for even one polling site.

The Wisconsin Army National Guard was set to help at the polls.

Evers said last week he did not have the authority to move the election on his own, but his order relies on a state law that says during an emergency the governor can “issue such orders as he or she deems necessary for the security of persons and property.”

Evers had asked for a special session of the legislature over the weekend to make voting in the election, which also will decide thousands of state and local offices, all by mail and extend the time to return ballots. But the legislature did not take up Evers’ plan.

More than a dozen states have delayed or adjusted their primaries in the Democratic race to pick a challenger to Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election to limit the spread of the highly-contagious coronavirus.

Democrats in Wisconsin have criticized Republicans for trying to force the vote to go forward. Republicans have cited the potential for voter fraud and the short timeline to fill state and local offices that are on the ballot.

Democrats have said Republicans are more interested in dampening turnout in state races, particularly for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court that could be instrumental in ruling on future voting-rights cases in the battleground state crucial to November’s presidential election.

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  • Wisconsin's Supreme Court rules governor cannot push back Tuesday's election: AP

The Wisconsin Elections Commission, which supervises elections in the state, called an emergency afternoon meeting to discuss the order but urged all local election clerks to be ready for voting on Tuesday.

“We ask you to proceed with your Election Day preparations as we do not know the outcome of any possible litigation and we need to be prepared if the election is held tomorrow,” Meagan Wolfe, administrator of the commission, said in a memo to election clerks.

A record of nearly 1.3 million absentee ballots had been requested although only about 725,000 had been returned by Monday, the commission said.

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