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Citing Public Health During COVID-19 Outbreak, Sanders Urges Wisconsin to Delay Primary

"People should not be forced to put their lives on the line to vote."

 A sign marks the location of a polling place on August 14, 2018 in Janesville, Wisconsin.

 A sign marks the location of a polling place on August 14, 2018 in Janesville, Wisconsin. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday urged Wisconsin to postpone the state's April 7 election in light of the public health threat of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

"People should not be forced to put their lives on the line to vote, which is why 15 states are now following the advice of public health experts and delaying their elections," Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, said in a statement Wednesday. "We urge Wisconsin to join them."

"The state should delay Tuesday's vote, extend early voting, and work to move entirely to vote-by-mail," Sanders continued. "While we wait for a decision, we urge our supporters to vote-by-mail."

Concern over holding primaries has increased since the last primaries were held on March 17 in Arizona, Florida, and Illinois. Since then, at least two polls workers in Florida have now tested positive for the virus.

In Wisconsin, voters are set to choose on Tuesday their preferred candidate for the presidential primary—Sanders is facing off with former Vice President Joe Biden for the Democratic ticket while President Donald Trump is unopposed in the state's Republican primary. But there are other issues on the ballot as well, including choosing a new state Supreme Court member. Milwaukee voters will also pick a new mayor and city comptroller.

As NBC News reported Wednesday, state officials' decision to go ahead with the election makes Wisconsin an outlier.

Every other state that was supposed to hold a presidential primary contest in late March or April has postponed their elections or switched to vote-by-mail, leaving perhaps the most critical battleground state in the country alone in a now deserted stretch of the electoral calendar.

The decision to move forward with holding the vote Tuesday hasn't been smooth sailing, but instead has created "a chaotic scenario that's left state and local election officials scrambling to hold a primary in the middle of a pandemic," CNN reported Tuesday. From the outlet:

Wisconsin elections officials are trying to keep up as absentee ballots surge, poll workers drop out, and supplies are in short demand a week away from a primary in which in-person voting is still set to proceed—despite Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' stay-at-home order and 1,351 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state as of Tuesday afternoon.

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The poll worker shortage is widespread. From the Wisconsin State Journal Tuesday: 

Nearly 60% of Wisconsin municipalities say they won't have enough poll workers to staff the April 7 election, raising concern among some clerks and state elections officials that thousands of voters may not be able to vote if the election isn't postponed.

Gov. Evers announced Wednesday his plan to address that worker shortage: he's going to deploy National Guard soldiers to staff the polls—but even that move will not provide enough staffing.

Keeping the scheduled election date but just moving to voting by mail could still be problematic, with NBC reporting there's been an "unprecedented surge in demand for mail-in ballots that has overwhelmed some local clerks."

The electoral chaos has triggered several lawsuits, and a federal judge has scheduled a hearing for them Wednesday.

Wisconsin voters can make an in-person request for an absentee ballot by Friday; the deadline for mail-in requests is Thursday.

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