MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The decision to forge ahead with Wisconsin’s election amid a pandemic has stirred fears about a possible spike in the state’s coronavirus cases in the face of stay-at-home orders and efforts to limit contact with others.
Public health experts, elected officials, poll workers and many voters pushed to delay the election. After the Republican-controlled Legislature refused to cancel in-person voting, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers issued an executive order to do so. But the state Supreme Court, less than 24 hours before voting was to begin, blocked the order.
Voters who didn’t get absentee ballots were forced to choose Tuesday between voting in person or staying at home to avoid possible exposure to the coronavirus. Thousands waited in line in Milwaukee, and long waits were reported in Green Bay. Voters and poll workers wore masks and gloves. Volunteers sat behind Plexiglass shields as they handed voters their ballots.
“From a public health perspective, this was counter to all good scientific evidence and advice right now for how to continue to curb the pandemic from having serious impacts in the state,” said Kristen Malecki, an epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
“The fact that politics interfered with sound judgment and jeopardized public safety is something that should not be ignored.”
Caleb Andersen, 40, said he was concerned that holding the election would wipe out any progress Wisconsin had made in slowing the spread of the virus. Andersen worked at one of Milwaukee’s five polling places, where he said 3,800 people voted. He said he feels certain he was exposed despite all efforts at safety.
Andersen blamed Republicans.
“I don’t see them as a political party as much as I see them as a death cult,” he said. “That is not hyperbole. I am actually struggling to consider them as human. I am shaking with rage right now.”
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos donned a mask, gloves and protective gown to work at the polls on Tuesday. Images and video of him in the protective gear, proclaiming that it was safe for people to vote, drew criticism.
The state reported Wednesday it has had 99 deaths and 2,756 confirmed cases.
Many people who showed up Tuesday to vote in person said they did so only because they had requested but not received an absentee ballot. It wasn’t clear how many people fell into that category, but election officials were overmatched by a record-high 1.3 million requests for such ballots in the lead-up to the election. There were also questions about whether U.S. Postal Service had been slow to deliver some ballots or outright mishandled them.