Voters in the midwestern US state of Wisconsin ventured out during a statewide public health emergency Tuesday to cast their ballots in the Democratic presidential primary and local elections.
The state’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, had issued an order to delay the election until June, over concern that holding an in-person vote could help spread the coronavirus.
However, the order was blocked Monday by the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court following a lawsuit by state Republicans, who argued Evers didn’t have the power to unanimously delay an election.
A separate request to extend absentee ballot submissions to give voters more time was then blocked by the US Supreme Court.
Democratic officials in Wisconsin have warned that holding the primary during a pandemic forces thousands of voters to make a choice between risking their health and exercising voting rights.
Health versus politics
As voting got underway in the state’s largest city, Milwaukee, there were reports of long lines with hours-long waits at polling stations, as only five of the city’s usual 180 polling stations were opened.
Wisconsin’s National Guard was called in to help run the polling centers around the state, as many staff declined to work during the pandemic.
Long lines and overcrowded voting centers made it difficult to practice social distancing. Some precincts set up drive-through voting stations.
Following the blocked order on Monday, Governor Ayers said that officials weren’t trying to delay the election for political ends, but rather because “people are saying they are afraid to go to the polls.”
Liberal-leaning Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg condemned the Supreme Court ruling, and said the surge in absentee ballot requests means many people will not receive and postmark their ballots by the April 7 deadline.
“The Court’s order, I fear, will result in massive disenfranchisement,” she wrote.
Neil Albrecht, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, said that hundreds of people called the commission to say they had not received a ballot.
“We have moved forward with an election, but we have not moved forward with democracy in the state of Wisconsin,” said Albrecht.
Along with the Democratic primary vote, thousands of local offices are on the ballot Tuesday for terms that begin in two weeks. The election also had a Republican candidate up for election for a State Supreme Court seat.
In the presidential primary race, Joe Biden already has a commanding delegate lead over his opponent Bernie Sanders and the Wisconsin results aren’t expected to tip the balance in Sanders’ favor.
wmr/dr (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)
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