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Wisconsin Set to Hold In-Person Primary Tomorrow Amid Pandemic

The Wisconsin Supreme Court room at the Capitol building. The painting was done prior the building's completion in 1917. Date: 23 March 2014 Source: Own work Author: Royalbroil

“We need you to step up and stop the State of Wisconsin from putting hundreds of thousands of citizens at risk by requiring them to vote at the polls while this ugly pandemic spreads,” pleaded Wisconsin mayors.

With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the nation, both the Democratic primary and local elections are still set to take place in Wisconsin despite widespread outcry against the public health risk of physical voting. The Republican-controlled state legislature refused to take up a motion during emergency sessions over the weekend that would have transitioned the primary to an all-mail election and allow votes to be received until May.

Mayors from many of the most-populated cities in the state wrote a letter to the state’s top health official on Sunday asking that the elections be shut down.

“We need you to step up and stop the State of Wisconsin from putting hundreds of thousands of citizens at risk by requiring them to vote at the polls while this ugly pandemic spreads,” read the letter signed by ten mayors. The letter finished with, “the lives of our constituents depend on it [suspending physical voting].”

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders has called on the elections to be postponed and advised his supporters to vote-by-mail.

On the other hand, Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden and President Donald Trump have said they will not call on the elections to be postponed.

“I think you can hold the election as well dealing with mail-in ballots and same day registration,” said Joe Biden in a virtual press conference. He added, “I think it could be done based on what I’ve been hearing from the news and what I understand the governor and others are saying.”

Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor Tony Evers shortly thereafter called for the primary election to be delayed.

To Delay or Not to Delay?

Biden and Trump’s refusal to call for primaries to be postponed have been somewhat consistent since the coronavirus outbreak began.

Ahead of March 17 elections in four states, Biden urged voters to head to the polls. “If you are feeling healthy, not showing symptoms, and not at risk of being exposed to COVID-19: please vote on Tuesday,” tweeted the former Vice President tweeted days before the election. Multiple reports have shown asymptomatic people can spread the deadly virus.

Biden is in a commanding 1217-914 delegate lead over Sanders and has done particularly well with older voters during the primary, a demographic highly susceptible to the virus.

Biden has said the Democratic convention may need to be held virtually after it was rescheduled to August.

But his refusal to call for primaries to be postponed has drawn much ire. The Sanders campaign’s national secretary Briahna Joy Gray retweeted The Intercept’s Ryan Grim who responded to Biden’s refusal to call for a postponement of the primary, “this is a despicable, cowardly, irresponsible, homicidal position to take in the midst of a airborne-virus pandemic. Shame on @JoeBiden for this. Wisconsin, ffs, postpone this.”

Implications on the General Election

Both Biden and Trump are reluctant to call for primaries to be postponed due to possible broader implications.

President Trump has regularly downplayed the virus before recently changing his rhetoric, but he has consistently maintained that he wants to reopen the country for business as soon as possible. Election postponements are likely viewed as a public relations loss.

On the other hand, the Biden campaign seems primarily concerned about ending the primary as soon as possible and the possible implications this could have for the general election. Perhaps the Biden campaign calculation is that postponing primaries gives precedent to postpone the general election.

But the Democratic Party should be aggressively pursuing vote-by-mail and absentee ballot options as concerns about the virus very well could last until the general election in November.

Trump has opposed mail voting and said, “I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting.”

But with coronavirus cases and deaths mounting, it may be the only choice for many Americans worried about the virus in November. Health experts have pointed to a potential resurgence of the coronavirus in the fall, so rather than dodging mail voting, elected officials would be wise to make contingency plans far ahead of the election. Democracy and American lives will depend on it.

Alec Pronk

Alec is a freelance writer with an interest in both geopolitics and American domestic issues. He finished his Master's degree with a critical focus on government counterterrorism policies.

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