MADISON -- Despite federal health recommendations, thousands of Wisconsin voters waited hours in long lines outside overcrowded polling stations on Tuesday, April 7 so they could participate in a presidential primary election that tested the limits of electoral politics in the midst of a pandemic.
Thousands more stayed home, unwilling to risk their health even as Republican officials pushed forward with the election amid a stay-at-home order. But many of the potential voters who remained in their homes complained that the absentee ballots they had requested never showed up.
The race pitted the Democratic and Republican parties against each other over central questions about how elections should be managed in a crisis. Democrats complained that the state was risking the health of its citizens by not postponing the election. Republicans insisted that the election should go on as scheduled — including voting for a pivotal state Supreme Court seat.
FOX6's Mary Stoker Smith spoke with Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes Tuesday via Skype, who said he shared voters' concerns. On Tuesday morning, Barnes posted this message to Twitter:
"Good morning and welcome to the (expletive) Show! Today’s episode has been produced by the Supreme Court and directed by the incomparable Speaker and Senate Majority leader duo. Buckle up, this one’s sure to disappoint!"
"Even the speaker of the Assembly, who said it was safe, showed up in basically in a full body mask, is what is looked like, and that speaks to the reality we are in, and the reality we should not have to face when people are trying to exercise their right to vote," said Barnes.
The chaos in Wisconsin, a premiere general-election battleground, underscored the lengths to which the coronavirus outbreak has upended politics as Democrats seek a nominee to take on President Donald Trump this fall. As the first state to hold a presidential primary contest in three weeks, Wisconsin became a test case for dozens of states struggling to balance public health concerns with voting rights.
Joe Biden hopes the state will help deliver a knockout blow to Bernie Sanders in the nomination fight, but the winner of Tuesday’s contest may be less significant than Wisconsin’s decision to allow voting at all. Its ability to host an election during a growing pandemic could have significant implications for upcoming primaries and even the fall general election.
Results were not expected Tuesday night. A court ruling appeared to prevent results from being made public earlier than April 13.