Wisconsin Governor Asks For Federal Help To Keep Polls Open Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

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Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers speaks with reporters at an event in Madison, Wis., last year. (Scott Bauer/AP)
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers speaks with reporters at an event in Madison, Wis., last year. (Scott Bauer/AP)

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers will not delay his state’s primary, saying efforts to expand voting by mail will be effective.

“This is the largest absentee ballot we've had for a primary in the history of Wisconsin,” he says. “So we believe that those will be counted."

The state will keep polls open for its primary next week, the only state with a contest this month that has not canceled or postponed in-person voting. The governor asked the National Guard Wednesday to assist in manning polls.

The state has also attempted to significantly increase voting by mail.

"I have spent literally days encouraging people to vote absentee and we have had significant successes,” Evers says.

The governor requested that Wisconsin provide absentee ballots to every registered voter, lift regulations and extend deadlines, but political gridlock between the Democratic governor and state Republicans marred the efforts, according to The Washington Post.

Still, Evers came under widespread criticism for not postponing Wisconsin’s April 7 primary. On Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders urged Wisconsin to delay its primary.

“People should not be forced to put their lives on the line to vote, which is why 15 states are now following the advice of public health experts and delaying their elections,” Sanders said in a statement. “The state should delay Tuesday’s vote, extend early voting and work to move entirely to vote-by-mail.”

But for Wisconsin, the primary not only decides presidential nominees but also local and state officials whose terms end this month.

"This is not just about a presidential primary, we have thousands of elected officials whose positions will be going vacant and we need them to help us end this virus," Evers says.

The political controversy comes as the coronavirus takes hold in Wisconsin. The number of cases has now surpassed 1,000, with the majority in Milwaukee. On Wednesday, Evers requested a federal major disaster declaration from the Trump administration, which would allow for more aid from the capital.

Deaths and rates of infection are particularly high in Milwaukee's black community, where years of inequity in health care resources are now taking their toll, according to the Associated Press.

"Unfortunately people that have disproportionately poorer health outcomes outside of the virus have it with the virus,” Evers says.

He says the only way to fix the problem is with systemic, permanent change.

“It’s a long-term solution,” he says. “We have to connect the dots here. We have to have good housing. We have to have good education. So inequality and inequity in this state and this nation is not going to be solved during this crisis."

This segment aired on April 1, 2020.



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