The state's Supreme Court shot down an attempt by the governor to postpone the election amid the pandemic

By Benjamin VanHoose
April 07, 2020 01:53 PM
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Credit: Angela Major/The Janesville Gazette via AP

Voting was underway in Wisconsin on Tuesday even as as novel coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns continued across the country.

People made their way to their polling places for Election Day, which was an exception to the stay-at-home order implemented to reduce the spread of the contagious respiratory illness.

The state’s election commission said there had been no reported problems with voting, according to local TV station WBAY, even as the virus greatly reduced accessibility in certain parts of the state.

In Milwaukee, only five of the 180 voting sites stayed open, according to the Associated Press, and the National Guard helped operate the locations since election staffers called off citing health concerns. The reduced polling places also resulted in long lines.

With pending elections on the way in several other states during the pandemic, many looked to Wisconsin as a test case for how to proceed even as health officials have urged people to avoid large gatherings to slow new infections while researchers develop treatments and a vaccine.

Other states have postponed their elections until the summer.

Aside from the presidential primary for the Democratic and Republican parties, there were a number of key local races on the ballot in Wisconsin, including for a spot on the state Supreme Court.

Amid people’s virus fears and the lack of available election staffing, Gov. Tony Evers and his Democratic colleagues pushed to postpone in-person voting and extend absentee voting deadlines to the summer, according to The New York Times — an executive order that was squashed by the state Supreme Court’s Republican majority.

“This court acknowledges the public health emergency plaguing our state, country, and world, but any action taken by the Governor, no matter how well-intentioned, must be authorized by law,” the state judges wrote in their decision, saying Evers didn’t have the power to hold the election.

The move to extend the deadline to send in votes by mail was curtailed by the U.S. Supreme Court, reversing a lower court and ruling that ballots needed to be postmarked by Tuesday rather than a later date.

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A man wears a full face chemical shield as he casts his votes Tuesday at the Janesville Mall in Janesville, Wisconsin.
| Credit: Angela Major/The Janesville Gazette via AP

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Over the weekend, the White House coronavirus task force said in a briefing for reporters that some health experts now believe up to half of coronavirus cases could be asymptomatic. That means a high volume of people could be unknowingly spreading the virus since they otherwise seem healthy.

In response to this finding, top government officials and experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested people wear face masks in public to prevent further transmission of the virus.

President Donald Trump, however, has called the wearing of masks “voluntary” and said he wouldn’t be donning any face coverings.

Trump, 73, also encouraged the people of Wisconsin to “get out and vote” on Twitter.

According to data compiled by The New York Times, there had been 2,440 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 83 deaths in Wisconsin as of Tuesday. Nationwide, those tallies were 367,857 and 11,014, respectively.

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.