WASHINGTON - Voters in the Midwestern U.S. state of Wisconsin are due to cast ballots Tuesday in the state’s Democratic presidential primary after a back-and-forth legal battle over whether to hold the election amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Democratic Governor Tony Evers had issued an order postponing the vote until June, but the state’s supreme court ordered it back on, saying Evers lacked the authority to push back the election on his own.
The court’s four conservative judges voted in support of the ruling while the two liberal judges voted against it.
Voters now face a choice of whether to vote in the primary election or to follow the advice of health officials and stay away from crowds.
Thousands of poll workers have said they will not work, leading to the closure of hundreds of polling sites in the state. The city of Milwaukee, the biggest Wisconsin city, said it would have just five polling stations open instead of the planned 180. National Guard troops have been dispatched to help staff the polls.
More than 2,200 confirmed coronavirus cases have been reported in Wisconsin and 73 deaths.
More than a dozen U.S. states have postponed Democratic presidential primaries in April and May between former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders until weeks from now in hopes that by then the effects of the virus will have dissipated enough to allow voters to show up at polling places to cast ballots without endangering their health.
But Wisconsin was the last holdout refusing to postpone its vote.
Evers had previously questioned his own authority to postpone the state primary, but he said Monday he was acting in the interest of public health.
He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper, “The bottom line is the people of Wisconsin, they don’t care about the fighting between Democrats and Republicans — they're scared. I'm standing up for those people who are afraid and that's why I'm doing this."
Key state Republican lawmakers called Evers’s action “an unconstitutional overreach."
Recent polling shows that Biden is running well ahead of Sanders in Wisconsin. Biden appears to hold an insurmountable lead over Sanders in pledged delegates to the Democratic presidential nominating contest in August and is likely to face Republican President Donald Trump in the November national election.
But on Sunday Biden did not directly call for postponement of the Wisconsin election, telling ABC’s “This Week” show, “Whatever the science says, we should do.”
Sanders had called for the election’s postponement.