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Gov. Evers meets with lawmakers, extends mask mandate

MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers and Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos described their Friday meeting to discuss coronavirus relief measures as productive.

The meeting came hours before Evers formally extended his order requiring masks to be worn in the state another two months, citing the strain on hospitals that are at or near capacity. The head of the Wisconsin Hospital Association on Thursday urged Evers and Republicans to work together urgently to avoid the crisis becoming a catastrophe.

Evers had said on Wednesday that he planned to issue the order. It comes as the state Supreme Court is weighing a lawsuit brought by conservatives that seeks to invalidate the requirement on the grounds Evers exceeded his authority. Republican legislative leaders also oppose the mask order.

The meeting Friday was Evers’ first with newly-elected Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu and his first since May with Vos.

“The conversation was productive and the governor expressed urgent need for working together on additional state support and asked legislative leaders to meet again the week after Thanksgiving,” said Evers’ spokeswoman Britt Cudaback. “He looks forward to the Legislature acting quickly to pass additional COVID-19 legislation to support our state’s response to this crisis.”

Vos said agreement was reached on some issues but not others. He did not specify.

“I see today’s conversation as a positive step forward to finding common ground in developing a more unified state response to the coronavirus pandemic,” he said in a statement.

Evers put forward a half-billion dollar COVID-19 relief bill this week. Vos outlined steps Assembly Republicans would like to take to combat the virus, but has not released any specific bills. Vos said the Legislature may come back in December to vote on bills.

LeMahieu did not immediately return messages seeking comment on the meeting.

The meeting came on a day that the state Department of Health Services reported 78 more deaths and 6,473 additional positive cases of COVID-19. To date, there have been nearly 345,000 positive cases and 2,954 deaths. There were 2,104 people hospitalized as of Thursday, down from an all-time high set on Tuesday, according to the hospital association.

There were 1,626 new cases per 100,000 people in Wisconsin over the past two weeks, which ranks fifth in the country for new cases per capita, according to data from Johns Hopkins. One in every 120 people in Wisconsin tested positive in the past week.

Trump objects to counting thousands of Wisconsin ballots

MADISON, Wis. — The recount of the presidential election in Wisconsin’s two most heavily Democratic counties began Friday with President Donald Trump’s campaign seeking to discard tens of thousands of absentee ballots that it alleged should not have been counted.

Trump’s three objections attempting to discard the ballots were denied by the three-member Dane County Board of Canvassers, twice on bipartisan votes. Trump was expected to make the same objections in Milwaukee County ahead of a court challenge once the recount concludes, perhaps as soon as Wednesday.

Joe Biden won Wisconsin by 20,600 votes and carried Dane and Milwaukee counties by a 2-to-1 margin. Trump only paid for recounts in those two counties, not in the 70 others, 58 of which he won.

There’s no precedent for a recount overturning a deficit as large as Trump’s in Wisconsin, so his strategy is widely seen as seeking to build a case to take to court.

His team on Friday sought to have ballots discarded where election clerks filled in missing address information on the certification envelope where the ballot is inserted; any absentee ballot where a voter declared themselves to be “indefinitely confined” under the law; and any absentee ballot where there was not a written application on file, including roughly 69,000 that were cast in-person during the two weeks before Election Day.

Trump attorney Christ Troupis argued that certification envelopes filled out by people who voted absentee in-person do not count under the law as a written application, even though the envelope is identified as such. The board of canvassers, controlled 2-1 by Democrats, voted unanimously to reject the complaint.

Troupis also argued that people claimed to be indefinitely confined even though they were not. Such a declaration exempts the voter from having to show a photo ID to cast their ballot, which Troupis called “an open invitation for fraud and abuse.” The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court this spring ruled that it is up to individual voters to determine whether they are indefinitely confined, in line with guidance from the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission.

The canvassing board voted 2-1 to count those ballots, with the Republican opposed.

Trump’s attorney also claimed that the law does not allow clerks to fill in missing information on the envelope that goes with absentee ballots. The state elections commission told clerks before the election that they can fill in missing information on the absentee ballot envelopes, a practice that has been in place for at least the past 11 elections.

The canvassing board voted unanimously to count those ballots.

In both Madison and Milwaukee, the recounts were taking place in large convention centers so workers could be distanced to protect against spreading the coronavirus. Observers were required to wear masks and plexiglass shields were set up.

Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson, a Democrat, said it was irresponsible of Trump to force the recount amid the pandemic that is surging in Wisconsin.

“It just shows his lack of empathy toward the American people,” Christenson said.

In Milwaukee, the Rev. Greg Lewis, founding president of groups of faith leaders who sought to bolster Black turnout, said the recount highlights the “oppression, disenfranchisement, downright racism and disrespect” that minority communities in Milwaukee face.

“I almost died and we are running around here counting votes unnecessarily,” said Lewis, who contracted COVID-19 earlier this year. “This is nonsense. This is pitiful. Why do we keep putting up with this? The people have decided, let it be.”

There have been at least 31 recounts in statewide elections in the U.S. since the most famous one in Florida’s presidential election in 2000. The recounts changed the outcome of three races. All three were decided by hundreds of votes, not thousands.

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New book detailing the history of the Northern Wisconsin State Fair released

The more than a century history of an annual Chippewa Valley get together has been told through a set of photographs.

The Chippewa County Historical Society has published a new pictorial history book titled, “Northern Wisconsin State Fair—A Fair To Remember.” This is the third book the local authors, Donna Bourget and Anne Keller, have produced since 2017.

Hundreds of photos and numerous news articles tell the stories and history about the Northern Wisconsin State Fair taking place during the last 123 years. Many area residents have also shared their memories of the fair.

The book is the third of its type published by the CCHS and all sales proceeds will be contributed to the new Area History Center Capital Campaign. Sales of the other two books have raised more than $50,000 for the building project. The first was published in 2017 in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the building of Lake Wissota and is titled, “Lake Wissota – The Dam Story.” The second book is Irvine Park – The Bear Facts that was published in 2019.

The book is available in Chippewa Falls at the following businesses: Chippewa County Historical Society, Chippewa Falls Main Street, Collective Charm, Country Treasures, Foreign Five, SandBar & Grill and the Wayside Bar & Grill. The book is also available in Eau Claire at the Chippewa Valley Museum, Carson Park and the Volume One Local Store.

To receive any of the books by mail, send a $25 check, for each book, payable to the CCHS with the book name(s) in the memo and addressed to the Chippewa County Historical Society, 123 Allen St. Chippewa Falls WI 54729.

Photos: Chippewa Area History Center groundbreaking

Illinois teen charged in protest slayings posts $2M bail

KENOSHA, Wis. (AP) — A 17-year-old from Illinois who is charged with killing two people during a protest in Wisconsin and whose case has become a rallying cry for some conservatives posted $2 million bail Friday and was released from custody.

Kyle Rittenhouse is accused of fatally shooting Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz during a demonstration Aug. 25 that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha. He posted bond through his attorney at about 2 p.m., Kenosha County Sheriff’s Sgt. David Wright said.

Rittenhouse, of Antioch, Illinois, told police he was attacked while he was guarding a business and that he fired in self-defense.

He faces multiple charges, including intentional homicide, reckless endangerment and being a minor in possession of a firearm. Wisconsin law doesn’t permit minors to carry or possess a gun unless they’re hunting. He is due back in court on Dec. 3 for a preliminary hearing.

His case has taken on political overtones. Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement have painted Rittenhouse as a trigger-happy white supremacist. Conservatives upset over property destruction during recent protests have portrayed him as a patriot exercising his right to bear arms during unrest. A legal defense fund for him has attracted millions of dollars in donations, and his mother got a standing ovation from women at a Waukesha County GOP function in September.

Huber’s father, John Huber, asked Kenosha County Circuit Court Commissioner Loren Keating during a hearing Nov. 2 to set Rittenhouse’s bail between $4 million and $10 million. Huber said Rittenhouse thinks he’s above the law and noted the effort to raise money on his behalf. He also suggested militia groups would hide him from police if he were released.

Rittenhouse’s attorney, Mark Richards, asked for $750,000 bail.

Keating ultimately set bail at $2 million, saying Rittenhouse was a flight risk given the seriousness of the charges against him.