Voters face long lines as Wisconsin holds elections despite virus fears

MILWAUKEE • Wisconsin voters faced long lines at limited polling locations yesterday, as the state’s presidential primary and local elections moved ahead despite mounting fears about the coronavirus outbreak in the US.

Outside Riverside High School in Milwaukee – where officials were forced to close 175 of 180 normal voting sites due to a lack of poll workers – masked voters stood metres apart in a line that stretched for several blocks early in the day, according to videos taken by onlookers and local news media.

More than half of Wisconsin’s municipalities reported shortages of poll workers, prompting the Midwestern state to call up 2,400 National Guard troops to assist.

The reduced crews of poll workers will urge voters to follow guidelines on social distancing and hand sanitising, election administrators said. In Milwaukee, Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik asked voters to wear masks, avoid reusing pens and stand at least 1.8m apart.

The election took place even though Wisconsin, like most US states, has imposed a stay-at-home order on its residents.

A flurry of 11th-hour legal wrangling failed to stop the balloting, as two late court rulings on Monday put the election, which will include Democratic and Republican presidential primaries and voting for thousands of state and local offices, back on track after days of uncertainty.

In deciding separate lawsuits brought by Republicans, the state Supreme Court blocked Democratic Governor Tony Evers’ order to delay the election until June, and the US Supreme Court overturned a federal judge’s decision to extend absentee voting, ruling that absentee ballots must be postmarked no later than yesterday to be counted.

“Now voters will be forced to choose between their health and their right to vote – an untenable choice that responsible public officials tried to avoid,” said Ms Satya Rhodes-Conway, the Democratic Mayor of Madison, Wisconsin.

The legal manoeuvring overshadowed the Democratic presidential primary in Wisconsin, the first nominating contest held since March 17 in the race to pick a challenger to Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov 3 election. More than a dozen other states have postponed or revised their nominating contests in an effort to stem the spread of the virus, which has also pushed Democratic front runner Joe Biden and his rival Bernie Sanders off the physical campaign trail.

After a late-night meeting, the Wisconsin Elections Commission said no results from yesterday’s voting would be released until next Monday, the deadline for absentee ballots to be received.

But the explosion of court cases, days of uncertainty and mounting health fears offer a potential preview of the November election if the coronavirus outbreak lingers or returns. In opposing any delay, Republicans cited the potential for voter fraud and the short timeline to fill thousands of state and local offices that are also on the ballot.

Democrats said Republicans wanted to dampen turnout in state races, particularly for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court that could be instrumental in ruling on future voting rights cases in the battleground state crucial to November’s election.


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