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Wisconsin voters forced to choose between health, democracy

People vote at Riverside High School, in Milwaukee on Tuesday. The Wisconsin primary is moving forward in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic after Gov. Tony Evers sought to shut down the election in a historic step that was swiftly rejected by the conservative majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court by the end of the day. (Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP)

People vote at Riverside High School, in Milwaukee on Tuesday. The Wisconsin primary is moving forward in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic after Gov. Tony Evers sought to shut down the election in a historic step that was swiftly rejected by the conservative majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court by the end of the day. (Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP)

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — If Wisconsin was a test case for voting in the age of the coronavirus, it did not go well for many voters.

Thousands were forced to congregate for hours in long lines on Tuesday with no protective gear. Thousands more stayed home, unwilling to risk their health and unable to be counted because requested absentee ballots never arrived.

Voters reported being afraid, angry and embarrassed by the state’s unwillingness to postpone their presidential primary elections as more than a dozen other states have already done. Neither Joe Biden nor Bernie Sanders will be declared a winner at least until next Monday in accordance with one of several court orders that shaped the contest.

And there was evidence that minority voters were disproportionately affected by widespread poll closings in their neighbhorhoods. Michael Claus, 66, wore a protective mask and a Tuskegee Airmen cap, as he waited to vote.

The black man said he tried to vote absentee and requested a ballot in March but it never showed up. His only option was to vote in person. He blamed the Republican-controlled state legislature.

“They could have delayed the election with no problem,” Claus said. “They decided if they can suppress the vote in Milwaukee and Madison, where you have a large minority presence, you can get people elected you want elected. And that’s sad.”

The chaos in Wisconsin, a premiere general election battleground, was expected to reverberate across states that still have primaries ahead. Alaska, Wyoming and Ohio are conducting contests by mail this month, and other states, including Georgia, are slated to hold in-person voting in May.

Election experts warned that Wisconsin was an example of what not to do. And the experience added immediate context to the broader debate about protecting voting rights this November.

“We have moved forward with an election, but we have not moved forward with democracy in the state of Wisconsin,” warned Neil Albrecht, executive director of Milwaukee’s election commission.

With results not coming until next week, the state did not offer Biden the knockout blow he had hoped for in his presidential nomination fight against Sanders. The candidates spoke out late Tuesday on separate livestreams from the safety of their homes hundreds of miles away but had little to say about the Wisconsin contest.

Sanders didn’t say a word about the election on Tuesday after warning the night before that the holding the election was “dangerous” and “may prove deadly.” Biden, too, said in-person voting shouldn’t have taken place.

Democrats in and out of Wisconsin had pushed for the contest to be postponed, yet Republicans — and the conservative-majority state Supreme Court — would not give in. The fight over whether to postpone the election was influenced by a state Supreme Court election also being held Tuesday. A lower turnout was thought to benefit the conservative candidate.

Lest there be any doubt about the GOP’s motivation, President Donald Trump on Tuesday broke from health experts who have encouraged all Americans to stay home by calling on his supporters to “get out and vote NOW” for the conservative judicial candidate.

The election was unlike any other in recent memory. Milwaukee, the state’s largest city, opened just five of its 180 usual polling places, forced to downsize after hundreds of poll workers stepped down because of health risks. The ensuing logjam forced voters to wait together in lines spanning several blocks in some cases. Many did not have facial coverings.

By Tuesday night, Wisconsin reported more than 2,500 coronavirus infections and 92 related deaths — 49 of them in Milwaukee County, where the voting lines were longest.

Milwaukee is home to the state’s largest concentration of black voters, who have been hit harder than others during the pandemic. Reduced minority turnout would benefit Republicans in a series of state and local elections.

The unprecedented challenge gave rise to chaotic scenes across the state — and a variety of health risks for voters and the elected officials who fought to keep polls open.

They included Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of the state Assembly, who joined more than 2,500 National Guard troops dispatched to help staff voting stations. While many voters stranded in lines for more than an hour did not have any protective equipment, Vos donned a face mask, safety glasses, gloves and a full protective gown.

In Madison, city workers erected Plexiglas barriers to protect poll workers, and voters were encouraged to bring their own pens to mark the ballots.

Tens of thousands of voters who received absentee ballots had not returned them as of Tuesday, Albrecht said. He noted that his office received hundreds of calls from people who didn’t get an absentee ballot or were concerned theirs hadn’t been delivered to election officials.

The Milwaukee resident Megan Nakkula, 30, was forced to vote in person after requesting an absentee ballot but never receiving it.

“It’s been a very emotional day thinking about what the outcome of this could be,” she said, holding back tears. “It just doesn’t feel like it was the safest decision to do. I saw a lot of elderly voters, people who were high risk and everyone is taking as many precautions as they could. We were 6 feet apart, but you know, we don’t know what we don’t know about this virus at this point in time, and it’s really scary.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


  1. Well as usual another attempt from the left to try and blame the Republicans for their screw up or was it? You Demo-dumbos won’t be getting away with your **** any more we meaning the general public can see threw damn near ALL of your deceit now, I find it interesting that you bring up absentee ballets not being delivered on time, that’s one funniest things I’ve heard so far, considering I to applied for an absentee ballet but here’s the kicker about this I applied for it on Wednesday, April 1st and got it of the 7th of April or Monday, like I said your leftest agenda won’t be fling very well anymore. There’s no room for STUPIDITY anymore and you fake news media people are seeing that now but we the right and the center favoring the right understand that the media are exceptionally THICK in the head so we just ignore you and let you believe that what you say or print matter’s even though it really doesn’t.

  2. Shameful that this passes as “news” with the deliberatively provocative headline and extremely one-sided storyline. I served as a poll worker on Tuesday and in no way did I feel that I was forced to compromise my health to accommodate the exercising of people’s right to vote. This date was necessary and required to allow for the proper transfer of power for local elected officials and judges…it is NOT arbitrary.

  3. When did the Daily Reporter become a marketing arm for the Democratic Party?

    This article is filled with half truths and outright lies. Gov. Evers waited until the last minute – the Friday before the election – to do anything. I did not see this in the article.

    The action to postpone the election should have come 4 weeks ago. The Dems were as much as fault as the GOP — again no mention in article.

    Will have to cancel my subscription to the D.R. If I want to see this crappy one sided reporting I would turn on CNN.

  4. Don Cornelius sr.

    The daily reporter is just another leftist run propaganda agency for the Democrats. Stick to facts about the industry and spare us your commie opion pieces.

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