MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Candidates and political parties aren’t pushing to postpone Wisconsin’s presidential primary next month, instead urging voters to cast absentee ballots rather than line up at the polls as the national slowdown to contain the new coronavirus deepens.
Fears of the virus have led to widespread cancellations across the country and the state. Last week, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Marquette University suspended face-to-face instruction and Gov. Tony Evers took the unprecedented step of ordering all K-12 schools in the state to shut down.
Georgia and Louisiana last week postponed their presidential primaries. In Wyoming, state Democrats have canceled the in-person portion of their upcoming caucuses and will instead rely on ballots that were already mailed to all registered party members. Officials in Maryland and New York have said they’re considering mailing primary ballots to all registered voters. A plea from Ohio’s elections chief last week prompted more than 1,200 people to sign up for poll worker duty across the state after election boards reported some workers were dropping out amid virus fears.
No one is talking about canceling or postponing Wisconsin’s April 7 election, at least not yet. The ballot features the Democratic presidential primary as well as a state Supreme Court race between conservative Justice Daniel Kelly and liberal challenger Jill Karofsky. But things are looking tenuous after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday issued recommendations to limit gatherings to no more than 50 people.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
The Wisconsin Legislature could change state law to postpone the state’s April 7 election, which features the Democratic presidential primary as well as a state Supreme Court race between conservative Justice Daniel Kelly and liberal challenger Jill Karofsky. That would be a tall order, though, since Republican legislators and the Democratic Evers have agreed on almost nothing over the last year. Absentee and early voting has already begun.
The state Elections Commission put out a notice on Friday urging people to vote via absentee ballot rather than travel to the polls, and to register quickly if they haven’t already done so. The deadline for registering by mail or online ends Wednesday; after that people will have to register in-person at their local clerk’s office or at the polls.
The state Democratic Party planned to hold a video conference Monday morning urging Wisconsin residents to vote early or request an absentee ballot. The party decided last week to postpone in-person events ahead of the election.
Kelly was scheduled to attend a St. Patrick’s Day Party hosted by the Wisconsin Conservative Digest on Monday evening in Milwaukee County. The event’s organizer, Chris Lawrence, said he expected at least 100 people and social distancing is an “overreaction” to the virus.
“We understand politically (health officials) have to overreact rather than underreact,” Lawrence said. “We just believe in taking the proper precautions. Wash your hands. Stay home if you’re sick.”
Former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson was invited to the event, Lawrence said, but can’t get a flight to Wisconsin from Florida, he said.
Kelly’s campaign manager, Charles Nichols, said Kelly was re-evaluating whether to attend the party in light of the CDC recommendations.
“We’re up in the air right now,” Nichols said. “A lot of things have changed, obviously. Dan’s top concern is public safety. We don’t want to endanger supporters or volunteers.”
Karofsky campaign spokesman Sam Roecker said she’s canceled in-person events and has stopped knocking on doors. The campaign instead has turned heavily toward calling, emailing and texting voters, he said.
Kelly launched a television ad Monday in Milwaukee, Green Bay, La Crosse, Wausau and Madison.
The spot features actors playing a waitress and customers in a cafe. The waitress asks the customers what they would like and they reply that they want a judge who protects the public and doesn’t make the law up. The camera then pans to Kelly sitting in his robe at the end of the counter. “Sounds good to me,” he quips.
The ad doesn’t make any mention of Karofsky.
Nichols said the spot is part of a $500,000 buy.