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Explained: What Wisconsin results mean for postal voting in the US

The results have energised the campaign of Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden, who in November will try to wrest Wisconsin from President Trump.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: April 17, 2020 11:52:39 am
Democratic US presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters with his wife Jill at his side during his Super Tuesday night rally in Los Angeles, California, March 3, 2020. (Source: REUTERS)

On Monday, the US state of Wisconsin simultaneously delivered two important electoral verdicts – a primary win for former vice president and now presumptive Democratic party nominee Joe Biden, and the rare upset of a sitting State Supreme Court judge.

While the victory for Biden in the key electoral state further solidified his already strong grip over the party, the liberal win in the State Supreme Court race result is considered more significant for the Democrats – where the conservative sitting judge lost despite historical pro-incumbency factors as well as support from President Donald Trump.

Both contests – the Democratic primary and the State Supreme Court poll – were on the ballot, which was conducted in-person last week despite fears of further exacerbating the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has currently affected the US more than any other country in the world.

Voting amid coronavirus

Ever since the novel coronavirus pandemic has reached the US, many have pushed for the expanded use of postal ballots as opposed to in-person voting to ensure social distancing, a critical measure adopted around the world to halt the outbreak.

President Trump’s Republican party has been resisting these efforts – with its legislators and court appointees at both state and federal levels working against the expansion of absentee balloting.

Republicans have argued that postal voting could increase risks of voter fraud, and have accused Democrats of using the pandemic as a pretext to further election reforms.

In Wisconsin, where voting took place last week, Democrats had called for the election to be conducted by postal ballot, or have its date postponed; citing pandemic risks.

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When the state’s Democrat governor, Tony Evers, sought to change the polling date and provide postal ballots to all voters, his efforts were blocked by Republicans.

When Evers invoked emergency powers just before the election, he was barred from doing so by the State Supreme Court, which has a conservative majority of judges.

Later the US Supreme Court, which also has a majority of Republican-appointed judges, added a condition to the state’s existing postal ballot process that led to large numbers of viable ballots being thrown out.

What the results mean

Despite the Republican-created legal challenges, the liberal judge Jill Karofsky was able to win against the conservative Daniel Kelly, as Democratic voters strongly rallied behind the former.

The election results were a shock for both parties, as the conservative judge became only the second incumbent in 53 years to lose his seat.

According to reports, Republicans received public backlash as their efforts at resisting postal voting ended up forcing thousands of Wisconsin voters to go and physically vote amid the outbreak despite health risks.

Republicans were also criticised for disenfranchising voters– as lockdown measures meant that more voting booths would remain closed in cities, which are more Democratic-leaning than in rural areas, which lean Republican.

The results have also energised the campaign of Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden, who in November will try to wrest Wisconsin from President Trump, who had carried the crucial state in the 2016 election.

Postal voting and the November elections

Critics have called exaggerated Republican fears that postal voting could cause electoral fraud, insisting that such malpractices are exceedingly rare in the US.

Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has called Republican efforts “voter suppression on steroids.”

President Trump, who has openly voiced the Republican opposition, has said that should plans to expand postal voting succeed, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Many now believe that the struggle between the two major parties on the subject, which was on display in Wisconsin, could last until the general election in November this year, given that the coronavirus outbreak continues to persist.

Don’t miss these articles on Coronavirus from the Explained section:

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