Wisconsin votes as national guard called out, many polling places shuttered


WASHINGTON — Wisconsin’s primary election will go on as planned Tuesday despite the state’s stay-at-home order and a day after two courts ruled that the election couldn't be postponed.

Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET for voters to cast ballots in person, though according to the state's elections commission, voters' designated polling places may have changed because of poll worker shortages.

Wisconsin's chief elections official, Meagan Wolfe, said in a statement Monday that voters who show up to the polls Tuesday should "be careful and patient" as social distancing procedures will be implemented at each site. The state is also recommending that voters wash their hands before heading to their polling place and wash or sanitize their hands when they arrive at the location before they vote.

"If you are ill and still need to vote on Election Day, curbside voting options are available," Wolfe said in a list of reminders to voters.

In an interview on NBC's "TODAY" show Tuesday, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams urged voters to exercise their right to vote as safely as possible.

"As a black man, I know that people have died for the right to vote. This is very important to our entire country. And if people are going to go out there and vote, then please do it as safely as possible — maintain six feet," he said. "Please, especially in Wisconsin consider wearing a cloth facial covering to protect your neighbor."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the only person left in the Democratic presidential race challenging current frontrunner former Vice President Joe Biden, said in a statement Monday night that his campaign would not participate in get-out-the-vote efforts on Tuesday.

"Let's be clear: holding this election amid the coronavirus outbreak is dangerous, disregards the guidance of public health experts, and may very well prove deadly," he said.

Biden has a big lead over Sanders in the state, according to recent polls, including one from Marquette Law School last week that showed the former vice president leading in Wisconsin 62 percent to 34 percent. The NBC News delegate tracker shows Biden leads with 1,196 delegates while Sanders has 883 delegates. A candidate needs to secure 1,991 delegates to win the party's nomination.

Critics raised the prospect of major election day problems, particularly given that thousands of poll workers stepped down. That led the state’s largest city, 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, where they were expected to help perform the normal functions of poll workers while also distributing hand sanitizer. In Madison, city workers erected Plexiglas barriers to protect poll workers, and voters were encouraged to bring their own pens to mark the ballots.

After a ruling by the Supreme Court on Monday, absentee ballots in Wisconsin must be hand-delivered by 8 p.m. on Tuesday or postmarked Tuesday and received by 4 p.m. on April 13 in order to be counted in the election. Any other ballots will not be counted, the state says.

Many requests for ballots have not been fulfilled yet and many voters who have received them have not returned them yet. As of Monday night, 1,275,154 applications for absentee ballots had been submitted to the states, 1,264,064 had been sent out to voters but only 724,777 had been returned, according to the elections commission.

The Supreme Court voted along ideological lines in a 5-4 decision, overturning a lower federal court’s ruling to extend the deadline for the absentee ballot process. The court’s liberal justices were the four who dissented and said that it would lead to “massive disenfranchisement” on Tuesday. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that the ruling “forces voters to choose between endangering their safety by showing up in person or losing their right to vote.”

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court also on Monday overturned an executive order issued by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers only hours earlier after he tried to delay the election until June 9 because of the coronavirus.

In addition to the Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday, the state is also holding general elections for a number of down-ballots races. Results of the election will not be released until April 13.