Wisconsin Moves Forward With Election Despite Virus Concerns

April 6, 2020 Updated: April 6, 2020

MADISON, Wis.—Voters in Wisconsin will face a choice Tuesday of participating in a presidential primary election or heeding warnings from public health officials to stay away from large crowds during the CCP virus pandemic.

Hours after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers issued an order postponing the election for two months, the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court on Monday sided with Republicans who said he didn’t have the authority to reschedule the race on his own. Conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court quickly followed with a ruling blocking Democratic efforts to extend absentee voting.

The decisions leave Wisconsin as the only state with an election scheduled in April that is proceeding as planned.

Evers said he had no other options after the state court ruled against him.

“There’s not a Plan B. There’s not a Plan C,” Evers said earlier Monday. After the court rulings, Evers said voters will now have to “wake up and have to choose between exercising their right to vote and staying healthy and safe. ”

Joe Biden already has a commanding delegate lead over Bernie Sanders and the Wisconsin results aren’t likely to slow his march to the Democratic presidential nomination. But the tumult in one of the most critical general election battlegrounds was a reminder of how the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, has upended politics during an election year. Beyond the shifts in the primary calendar, Biden and President Donald Trump have not been able to hold in-person campaign events and have moved most of their operations online.

The tension in Wisconsin over whether and how to proceed with the election has been building for weeks. Evers and Republicans initially agreed it was imperative for the election to proceed because thousands of local offices are on the ballot Tuesday for terms that begin in two weeks. There is also a state Supreme Court election.

Evers himself had questioned whether he had the power to reschedule the election, but said the worsening situation, including an increase in COVID-19 deaths from 56 on Friday to 77 on Monday, made clear there was no way to safely move forward. Evers said he sought the delay because he was motivated by protecting public health, not politics.

“The people of Wisconsin, the majority of them, don’t spend all their waking hours thinking about are Republicans or Democrats getting the upper hand here,” Evers said earlier Monday. “They’re saying they’re scared. They’re scared of going to the polls.”

Virus Outbreak Wisconsinn Election
Jim Carpenter protests Tuesday’s scheduled election amid the CCP virus pandemic , in downtown Milwaukee, on April 6, 2020. (Morry Gash/AP)

He was thwarted by conservatives on two courts. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 4-2, with four conservatives in support and two liberals against, that Evers lacked the authority to move the election on his own.

The U.S. Supreme Court split 5-4, with the five Republican-appointed justices siding with the national and state party to overturn a lower court ruling that had expanded absentee voting. In an unsigned opinion, the court said absentee ballots must be hand-delivered by Tuesday evening or postmarked by Tuesday, although they can arrive at clerks’ offices as late as April 13.

The lower court order that extended absentee balloting through April 13 had stipulated that election returns not be announced until then. Wisconsin Election Commission spokesman Reid Magney said that portion of the lower court’s order remained in effect.

As of Monday, nearly 1.3 million absentee ballots had been requested but only about 57 percent of those had been returned. It’s unclear how many of the outstanding 539,000 ballots will be in voters’ hands by Tuesday to meet the April 7 postmark deadline.

One of the tables, fitted with protective plexiglas
One of the tables, fitted with protective plexiglass, at the sole polling location for city of Waukesha, Wis., residents on April 6, 2020. (Scott Trindl via AP)

Ohio saw a similar eleventh-hour flurry the day before its primary last month. After the Republican governor and secretary of state failed to persuade a judge to shift the election date, the state health director stepped in and ordered voting shut down. Legislators set a new, almost all-mail primary for April 28, sparking new legal challenges from voting rights groups, but a federal judge on Friday said the election could go forward.

Ahead of the Wisconsin primary, thousands of poll workers said they wouldn’t work, leading Milwaukee to reduce its planned number of polling sites from 180 to just five. More than 2,500 National Guard troops were dispatched to staff the polls. They were also distributing supplies, including hand sanitizer, to polling sites across the state. In Madison, city workers were erecting Plexiglas barriers to protect poll workers, and voters were encouraged to bring their own pens to mark the ballots.

By Scott Bauer and Steve and Peoples

Epoch Times staff contributed to this report