In-person voting controversy overshadows Sanders-Biden battle in Wisconsin

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont defends his health care plan against criticism from former Vice President Joe Biden during a debate. ABC-TV

This story will be updated.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Sen. Bernie Sanders is facing off against former Vice President Joe Biden in the Wisconsin primary Tuesday. 

But the contest and the 84 pledged delegates up for grabs have been overshadowed by the controversial decision to continue with in-person voting when people are told to remain home and abstain from social interaction because of the coronavirus epidemic.

Early Tuesday morning, people in Milwaukee, and throughout the state, were lining up outside polling locations just a day after the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned an executive order issued by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to delay voting until June 9. 

On Monday, April 7, the Wisconsin high court ruled 4-2 that Evers did not have the authority to postpone the election, allowing voting to go forward as planned, despite there being a stay at home order in place throughout the state.

The decision to go ahead with the primary comes as 14 other states and Puerto Rico have decided to postpone primaries until June in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

Sanders has strongly opposed the decision to allow the Wisconsin primary to take place while some state residents may feel unsafe taking part in the election.

On Monday, the Vermont independent released a statement saying his campaign would not hold face-to-face get out the vote efforts. Sanders called the state Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss the governor’s plan to delay voting “outrageous.”

“The conservative majority on the Supreme Court in Wisconsin are willing to risk the health and safety of many thousands of Wisconsin voters tomorrow for their own political gain,” Sanders said.

“Holding this election amid the coronavirus outbreak is dangerous, disregards the guidance of public health experts and may very well prove deadly,” Sanders said.

While Sanders has strongly condemned going ahead with the Wisconsin primary, Biden has struck a middle of the road approach, neither condoning the decision nor endorsing it.

“There’s a lot of things that can be done, that’s for the Wisconsin courts and folks to decide,” Biden said last week during a virtual press conference, adding that he believed both in-person and mail-in voting could both be done safely.

The former vice president holds a resounding lead in pledged delegates — 1,217 to 914 — over his Vermont opponent, and ahead of the Wisconsin primary, he was well ahead in the polls in the state that Sanders won by more than 13 points in 2016.

Sanders’ prospects in Wisconsin, much like that of his campaign, have sunk since February, when he was up 14% on Biden in the Badger State in a Marquette Law School poll. Marquette’s latest poll now has Biden at 62% and Sanders at a distant 34%.

In the face of  the overwhelming odds, the Vermont senator has decided to continue his bid for president despite trailing Biden by more than 300 pledged delegates, maintaining that he has a “narrow” path to victory.

During an April 1 appearance on “The View,” Sanders was challenged to explain how he could still win the nomination for president. Sanders insisted “people in a democracy have a right to vote and have a right to vote for the agenda that they think can work for America, especially in this very, very difficult moment.”

Meanwhile, Biden has turned his attention towards picking a potential Cabinet and vetting possible vice presidential picks. Biden has also spoken to Sanders about his plans, in an attempt to keep the Vermont senator in the loop around his intentions as the days until the Democratic National Convention dwindle. 

“I am in the process and I actually had this discussion with Bernie. He’s a friend. We’re competitors. He’s a friend. I don’t want him to think I’m being presumptuous but you have to start now deciding who you’re going to have background checks done on as potential vice presidential candidates and it takes time,” Biden said Friday, Politico reported.

On Tuesday morning, on the “Today Show,” the former vice president stressed how important Sanders and his supporters are. 

“Bernie is one of probably a half dozen people in American history who may not be the nominee but has had an impact on American politics in a significant way, in a positive way,” Biden said.

“If I’m the nominee I can tell you one thing I would very much want Bernie to be part of the journey —  not as a vice presidential nominee, but just in engaging in all the things that he’s worked so hard to do, many of which I agree with,” he added.

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Kit Norton

About Kit

Kit Norton is the general assignment reporter at VTDigger. He is originally from eastern Vermont and graduated from Emerson College in 2017 with a degree in journalism. In 2016, he was a recipient of The Society of Environmental Journalists' Emerging Environmental Journalist award. Kit has worked at PRI's weekly radio environmental program, Living on Earth, and has written for the online news site Truthout.

Email: [email protected]

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