Former Vice President Joe Biden has officially been declared the victor of the Wisconsin Democratic primary, according to the Associated Press, after a surge in mail-in ballots posted in the midst of the coronavirus crisis took days to officially tabulate the results of the April 7 contest.
Biden’s win in Wisconsin is largely pro forma following the suspension of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign last week, which cleared the path to the Democratic presidential nomination for the former two-term vice president, despite the chaotic lead-up to a contest that some local leaders worried would expose voters to the coronavirus.
Biden’s victory comes a week after eleventh hour efforts by Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, who sought to postpone in-person voting across the state until June in the hopes of limiting voters’ exposure to the virus. The primary, the first major contest to hold in-person voting since the coronavirus pandemic effectively shuttered most states across the country in March, was given the green light by the state supreme court just hours before voting began on April 7. Republican leaders in the state opposed Evers’ attempt to delay.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said in a press call Monday morning before the results were released what happened in Wisconsin "was voter suppression on steroids because it was putting people's lives in danger.”
A mixture of health worries, concerns about poll worker shortages and a large scale downsizing of polling places in Milwaukee led to a disastrous picture emerging from the election day. Voters waited for hours in line to vote in some locations, in various degrees of social separation, and a sense of anxiety about taking such a risk was clear. But some calls to delay came only as the situation appeared to become bleaker. The Wisconsin Democratic Party announced its support to postpone the contest the Wednesday before the election was held.
"What happened last week is a blight on democracy," Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler said Monday morning. "It was a blight on the history of our state."
For some in the state, the Biden/Sanders race wasn’t the contest they cared most about on the ballot. The race for a state supreme court seat drew widespread attention, including from President Donald Trump.
Trump, who took to Twitter urging people to vote “for highly respected Republican, Justice Daniel Kelly,” in the race, insisted during a coronavirus task force briefing last week that the Democrats' attempt to delay the election was less about pandemic health concerns and more about Trump backing Kelly.
Prominent Democrats in the state backed Judge Jill Karofsky in the race. And Some Democrats in Wisconsin worried that suppressed turnout because of the pandemic could keep the seat in conservatives' hands.
Two of the state’s major Republican leaders maintained in the lead up to the April 7 contest that in person voting should still take place. On the eve of the election, Wisconsin House Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a joint statement they continued “to believe that citizens should be able to exercise their right to vote at the polls on Election Day, should they choose to do so.”
Despite being the presumptive nominee, Biden is still short of winning the total number of delegates he needs to officially clinch the nomination.
Sanders, who like Biden has been in social isolation in his home since their twin rallies in Cleveland were cancelled in early March due to concerns about the virus, had called for Wisconsin to postpone its primary—a move Biden had publicly avoided until after the polls had closed in the state.
“My gut is that we shouldn’t have had the election in the first place—the in-person election. It should have been all mailed in,” Biden told Chris Cuomo on Tuesday night, 40 minutes after polls had closed in the state and one week after he had said that in-person voting could continue.
Biden blamed the in-person voting issues on Wisconsin Republicans, who he said were “pushing really, really hard to maintain that they had an election because I think they know that low turnout affects their interests.”
Price County Democratic Party chairman Steve Gustafson told The Daily Beast on April 7 that it was “appalling” that in-person voting was occurring despite the global health crisis.
“How can this not spread further? It’s absurd,” Gustafson said. “Obviously people are going to get sick, they’re going to spread the virus and people are going to die. And that’s not right.”