Tuesday November 30, 2021

Wisconsin holds primary vote despite deadly coronavirus crisis

April 08, 2020

Milwaukee: Wisconsin controversially held its presidential primary as planned Tuesday despite a state-wide stay-at-home order and concern that the election could expose thousands of voters and poll workers to the coronavirus.

Democratic officials had sought to postpone the election but were overruled by the top state court, and the US Supreme Court stepped in to bar an extension of voting by mail that would have allowed more people to cast ballots without going to polling stations. Both courts have conservative majorities.

With the Midwestern state ignoring calls to postpone the primary over health fears, as 15 other states have already done, many Wisconsinites were being forced into an agonizing decision: risk their health to fulfill their democratic right, or stay safe by staying at home.

In Milwaukee, voters’ options have been drastically reduced due to a lack of personnel to staff the polling stations, and voting is expected to be light. The city of 600,000 normally has some 180 polling locations open, but that number reportedly has been reduced to just five, prompting long lines in an era of social distancing.

Wisconsin’s chief election official Meagan Wolfe called on voters to be "careful and patient" at the polls. "If you are ill and still need to vote on Election Day, curbside voting options are available," she said in a statement.

With the new precautions in place and most polling stations closed, wait times in Milwaukee were soaring. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel showed one mask-wearing woman in line to vote at a high school holding a cardboard sign bearing a message summing up voting during a pandemic: "THIS IS RIDICULOUS."

More than 2,400 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Wisconsin and 77 have died, the state’s health department says. The nationwide death toll has topped 11,000. President Donald Trump urged voters to "be safe," as he encouraged them to support a Republican candidate for the state’s Supreme Court.

"Wisconsin, get out and vote NOW for Justice Daniel Kelly," he tweeted. But Tuesday’s higher profile contest is between the two remaining candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination: former vice president Joe Biden, the frontrunner, and leftist Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders, 78, opposed holding the primary as scheduled, saying people should never have to choose between voting and staying safe.

"Let’s be clear: holding this election amid the coronavirus outbreak is dangerous, disregards the guidance of public health experts, and may very well prove deadly," Sanders tweeted. The 77-year-old Biden likely sees Wisconsin, where he tops Sanders in polling, as an opportunity to extend his lead. He has refrained from publicly calling for the primary’s postponement, saying it was up to local officials to decide.

In the city of Kenosha, voters wearing masks and gloves lined up at the Journey Church, where polling personnel also were wearing protective gear. Inside, voters stood behind a plexiglass barrier as staff checked them in, and National Guard personnel cleaned voting machines and helped maintain order.

Wisconsin forged ahead with its primary after the Democratic governor’s bids to delay the election were thwarted by the Republican-led state legislature. When Governor Tony Evers sought to postpone in-person voting to June 9, the state Supreme Court overrode the order.

Evers then moved to expand absentee voting by allowing mail-in ballots to be postmarked several days after the election. But in an 11th-hour ruling, the US Supreme Court voted 5-4 along ideological lines to require all ballots be postmarked by Tuesday.