Wisconsin’s Pandemic Primary

Primary Watch: Marginalized Communities Impacted and Sanders Bows Out

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench in the 2020 Democratic primary elections. Due to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendation for social distancing to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, the reality of voting in America has changed. Several states across the country have postponed their primary elections or canceled in-person voting and extended deadlines for mail-in ballots — all to follow guidelines that include limiting gatherings to less than 10 people, keeping a physical distance of six feet from others and wearing personal protective equipment, fondly known as PPE, like face masks or gloves.

Twenty-one states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia still have primaries between now the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Milwaukee, Wisc. which has also been postponed to Aug. 17-20. The Republican National Convention, scheduled for Aug. 24-27 will take place here in Charlotte., N.C. Seen as a potentially pivotal state this year, Ohio’s primary was originally scheduled for March 17. They postponed until April 28, prompting the Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez to encourage other states to follow suit and provide voters with a way to vote that didn not pose a risk to their health.

“Eligible voters deserve certainty, safety, and accessibility,” Perez said in a statement. “That’s why states that have not yet held primary elections should focus on implementing the aforementioned measures to make it easier and safer for voters to exercise their constitutional right to vote, instead of moving primaries to later in the cycle when timing around the virus remains unpredictable,” he added.

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On Tuesday, April 7 the Wisconsin primaries commenced, despite the Democratic Party’s recommendation for states to embrace safer voting alternatives, as well as an executive order issued by the state’s governor, Tony Evers, to delay the primary. The Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected the governor’s attempt to delay the primary and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that decision, overturning a lower court order which would have extended the option for absentee balloting. Wisconsin voters who have not already cast absentee ballots “will have to brave the polls, endangering their own and others’ safety,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent. “Or they will lose their right to vote, through no fault of their own.”

The New York Times said voters were forced to choose between their health and their civic duty. “In Milwaukee, citizens were forced to choose between following public health orders to stay at home and stand in line for hours at one of just five polling places the city kept amid the coronavirus pandemic,” the Times added.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Alphonso David said that transgender and black voters were particularly affected by Wisconsin’s primary due to the limited access to voting polls in urban areas, as well many voters not having received their absentee ballots despite them being requested in a timely manner. “Results will prove that marginalized communities, such as black and transgender voters, bore the brunt of the limited access to the ballot,” said David.

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The Wisconsin Elections Commission is still mandating that the results not be released until the day of the previously extended absentee-ballot deadline, Monday, April 13, so official results were not available as of press time.

The day after Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders dropped out of the 2020 presidential race, however, making Former Vice President Joe Biden the presumptive Democratic nominee in the race against Donald Trump. “I have concluded that this battle for the Democratic nomination will not be successful, and so today I am announcing the suspension of my campaign,” Sanders said in a live stream.

As part of our coverage in TurnOUT: How LGBTQ Organizations Have Mobilized the Community, this project has been supported by the Solutions Journalism Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems, solutionsjournalism.org.

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