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An election official checks in a resident at a drive-up polling place set up outside of Roosevelt Elementary School on April 7, 2020 in Racine, Wisconsin. The polling place was set up to offer drive-up voting where residents voted from their vehicles but it offered one outdoor voting booth for residents who walked to the polling place. The extreme measures were put in place to make the process safer for residents and election officials as the state continued its shelter-in-place order to help curtail the spread of COVID-19. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Calls for Vote-by-Mail Intensify After At Least 19 Cases of Coronavirus Are Linked to Wisconsin Primary Election

"This was completely avoidable."

Julia Conley

Voting rights advocates demanded state and federal lawmakers expand voting-by-mail immediately on Wednesday as Wisconsin health officials announced that nearly 20 new cases of the coronavirus were linked to the in-person voting that took place in the state on April 7.

Two weeks after Sen. Bernie Sanders warned that moving ahead with in-person voting for the state elections could "prove deadly" and dozens of civil rights groups and public health experts urged the election be postponed, 19 people who voted in person or worked at polling locations have since tested positive for the virus. 

Critics of the decision to go ahead with the vote were unsurprised by the new cases, and said they offered more proof that other state, local, and federal elections this year must be completed with widespread vote-by-mail systems in place.

"Expand vote by mail," tweeted Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.

The April 7 election went ahead despite protests from the Wisconsin Democratic Party, mayors throughout the state, and civil rights groups.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers called on the GOP-controlled state legislature to consider postponing the election till May 26, with the majority of in-person voting suspended and voters obtaining absentee ballots by May 19. 

Republican lawmakers convened but refused to consider the proposal, and the state Supreme Court sided with the GOP. The U.S. Supreme Court also overturned a lower court ruling to extend the absentee ballot deadline in what journalist Mark Joseph Stern called "one of the most brazen acts of voter suppression in modern times."  

"The Supreme Court paved the way for this to happen," tweeted Demand Justice, a progressive advocacy group.

Other critics on social media also laid blame for the new cases of COVID-19 on the Supreme Court and the Wisconsin Republicans.

"Thank you, SCOTUS," tweeted journalist Aaron Rupar sarcastically.

Chris Lu, a former Obama administration official, said the sad development was the "least surprising news story" and called it a "completely avoidable" outcome.

As The Intercept reported, some local officials in cities around the country are pushing vote-by-mail proposals—even as Republican-led state legislatures refuse to cancel in-person voting. 

In Milwaukee, where 19,000 voters had to report to just five polling places on April 7 to cast ballots, as more than 100 locations were closed due to low staffing, alderman Marina Dimitrijevic introduced legislation Tuesday evening to allow the city's registered voters to vote with absentee ballots and to send them pre-paid postage envelopes.

"This will protect the lives of the 300,000 registered voters in Milwaukee and undercuts the Republican assault on Wisconsin's democracy," Dimitrijevic told The Intercept.

Officials in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania and Broward County, Florida are pushing similar proposals.

At the national level, advocates for safe elections said voters must pressure lawmakers to pass vote-by-mail legislation in time for the November general election.

"Call your member of Congress and demand national Vote-By-Mail," tweeted philanthropist Minh Ngo. "Our lives and our democracy depend on it." 

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