Michelle Obama Makes Rare Political Statement Criticizing Wisconsin for Holding Primary Vote

Wisconsin held its primary elections Tuesday, despite health officials' asking for Americans to practice social distancing

Michelle Obama
Former First Lady Michelle Obama. Photo: Michelle Obama

Former First Lady Michelle Obama gave rare input on current politics Tuesday, tweeting that the U.S. needs to “do better to ensure voting is safe for all voters” as Wisconsin’s decision to go through with its primary vote on Tuesday in the middle of a pandemic came under fire.

“Today, Wisconsin voters had to choose between making their voice heard and keeping themselves and their family safe,” Mrs. Obama, 56, tweeted. “No American should ever have to make that choice.”

Wisconsin decided to continue with its state primary vote, despite health officials’ warnings for Americans to practice social distancing and refrain from public gatherings.

Scenes at polling places in Wisconsin showed voters waiting in long lines, many wearing protective masks, in order to vote on Tuesday. Some voters showed up wearing gas masks, while others handed off their ballots at a distance.

“We must do better to ensure voting is safe for all voters,” the former first lady continued, sharing information on how voters in Wisconsin can make sure their absentee mail-in ballots will be counted.

The New York Times reports that 15 other states and one U.S. territory have postponed their state primary elections until later in the summer because of the virus.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers made an executive order to postpone his state’s primary election, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Monday overturned the order.

Also on Monday night, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 vote to allow Wisconsin to discount any mail-in votes postmarked after Tuesday’s election — a decision that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said, “will result in massive disenfranchisement.”

In Milwaukee, the state’s largest city with more than half a million residents, the Times reports just five out of 180 polling places across the city were kept open on Tuesday.

Thousands across the state say they never received the absentee ballots they requested, according to official state figures gathered by the Times. State numbers show 1,282,762 people across Wisconsin requested absentee ballots.

Election 2020 Wisconsin
Angela Major/The Janesville Gazette via AP

A push for states to bolster their remote voting capabilities has swept across the U.S. since mid-March when the coronavirus shut down nearly every facet of American public life, including the ongoing 2020 Democratic primary campaign between former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

There have been at least 12,000 U.S. deaths due to the coronavirus and more than 395,000 cases, according to a Times tracker. Mail-in voting, proponents like Mrs. Obama argue, would allow U.S. voters to still cast their votes while maintaining the safe social distance that federal health officials say is necessary to slow the spread of the virus.

President Donald Trump, however, has maintained that he believes mail-in voting is “corrupt.”

The president — who voted by mail in last month’s Republican primary in Florida — told reporters at the White House Tuesday he believes “mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country because they’re cheaters.”

Trump, 73, also claimed there was no concern in Wisconsin about holding in-person voting on Tuesday until he endorsed Republican candidate Daniel Kelly for the state’s Supreme Court.

“The Democrats in Wisconsin, they had no problem with the election being today until I endorsed the Republican candidate Justice Kelly,” Trump said. “As soon as I endorsed him, they went crazy.”

In the Democratic primary race there, polls indicated Biden held a substantial lead over Sanders in Wisconsin.

Biden currently leads Sanders in the total delegate count by a 1,215-909 margin.

A candidate needs at least 1,991 delegates to win the Democratic presidential nomination and go on to run against incumbent President Trump in the November general election.

That candidate — either Biden or Sanders — will be nominated at the Democratic National Convention on August 17, after it was postponed from its original mid-July date because of the coronavirus.

As questions about voter safety in the era of social distancing start to dominate election days, Trump has said there are no plans to postpone the November presidential election due to the coronavirus.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.

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