Wisconsin Primary Moving Forward

By Jim Ellis

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers

April 8, 2020 — Whether or not the Wisconsin primary would be held as scheduled took rulings from two Supreme Courts to decide, but we will see voting today throughout the Wolverine State.

The Democratic presidential primary is interesting since the Wisconsin electorate will be the first to vote post-March 17, and so far, becomes the only group to cast ballots during the COVID-19 lockdown situation. How this affects today’s vote in terms of turnout and candidate loyalty will be interesting to analyze.

Whether or not this election would even happen today has been a point of discussion for the past two weeks. Many Democratic strategists were lobbying Gov. Tony Evers, a fellow Democrat, for several days to move the election, but he was slow to act. Late last week, Gov. Evers decided to ask the legislature to pass a bill changing the election date, but the Republican majority leadership in the two chambers refused. Gov. Evers then made a last-ditch effort to declare a state of emergency and attempted to move the election.

The latter action drew the Republican leadership’s ire, and they immediately petitioned the state Supreme Court arguing that the governor has no power to arbitrarily move an election. They also went to the US Supreme Court attempting to get a lower-court ruling to extend the absentee ballot return deadline past the original election schedule countermanded.

At the heart of the election date becoming a political football was not the presidential race, but rather an important state Supreme Court election. Though the race is ostensibly nonpartisan, it is clear that Democrats believe chances for the candidate they are backing improve in a later election, while Republicans think the appointed incumbent they support fares better in a quicker, and presumably lower turnout contest.

In each court ruling, the arguments advocating that the election remain constant with the present schedule prevailed. The Wisconsin Supreme Court declared that the governor has no power to move an election, and the US Supreme Court blocked the order to extend the absentee ballot acceptance date. Therefore, the following Wisconsin Board of Elections’ absentee ballot rules and schedule remains intact.

Ballots will not be accepted if they are:
• Not postmarked by April 7.
• Postmarked on or before April 7, but received after 4:00 p.m. on April 13.
• Hand delivered or without a postmark received after 8:00 p.m. on April 7.

In the nine states that voted between Super Tuesday, March 3, and March 17, former vice president Joe Biden placed first in eight of them – only North Dakota went for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders – and averaged approximately 54 percent of the Democratic vote. It will be worth watching to see just how well he performs in a political, economic, and structural environment that is much different than in any recent election.

Prior to Super Tuesday, the Wisconsin polls were favoring a Bernie Sanders first-place finish. The one released closest to Super Tuesday voting (Marquette Law School; Feb. 19-23; 464 likely Wisconsin Democratic primary voters) found Sen. Sanders posting a 29-17 percent lead over former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, while Biden claimed 15 percent.

After Biden’s strong performance on March 3, the Wisconsin polling matrix dramatically changed. In three polls conducted between March 6-29, from YouGov, Public Policy Polling, and Marquette Law School, the former vice president recorded advantage margins over Sen. Sanders of between 11 and 28 percentage points.

In what is now expected to be a low participation election, political prognosticators ponder whether Biden can post such a large victory spread. Since Sen. Sanders has what is proven to be the more committed base, a low turnout may favor him rebounding at least to a degree. The only certainty, however, is that Wisconsin voters finally know they have an election today.

At this point, the May 12 special congressional election in the vacant 7th District to replace resigned Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wausau), and the Aug. 11 statewide primary remain in place.

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