The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s controversial decision ordering the state to proceed with the elections over the objections of the governor and public health officials led to snaking lines in several cities as determined voters waited for hours to cast their ballots.
The nearly unprecedented challenge for election officials hit hardest in Milwaukee, which opened five voting locations out of the typical 180 because of worker shortages, and Green Bay, which offered only two polling locations instead of the usual 31 and had waits of two to three hours.
Health officials are now trying to determine whether anyone was infected with the coronavirus in the process.
“The election activity query attempts to capture anyone that may have voted in person or worked at a polling place and if so, where,” Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik said in a statement.
Kowalik said only 30 percent of the questionnaires have been collected from people who reported becoming infected since April 7, meaning the number of infections among those who participated in the election could grow. Officials will look at all new infections between April 7 and 21, to account for a 14-day incubation period, she said.
Officials said they expect to report complete numbers by Friday.
Confusion and partisan rancor reigned across the state after a series of fast-moving events leading up to the election, when Gov. Tony Evers (D) tried to suspend in-person voting, only to have the Wisconsin Supreme Court side with the GOP-controlled legislature and block the effort.
Republicans also successfully appealed a separate case to the U.S. Supreme Court, overturning a lower-court decision allowing mail ballots to be received until April 13, regardless of when they were postmarked.
Republicans argued that canceling elections would sow chaos and that allowing ballots to be mailed after April 7 would improperly let voters cast ballots after Election Day. Democrats accused their opponents of trying to suppress voter turnout to help a conservative incumbent on the state Supreme Court. The incumbent, Daniel Kelly, lost the election overwhelmingly to liberal candidate Jill Karofsky.
The drama in Wisconsin offered a preview of what could play out in upcoming primaries — and possibly in the November election — as the health crisis upends voting throughout the country.