MADISON, Wis. – There are no plans to postpone or otherwise alter a special congressional election in Wisconsin that is less than two weeks away, even though more than 50 people who voted in person or worked the polls during the state’s presidential primary this month have tested positive for COVID-19.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers tried to change the April 7 election so that it would be conducted entirely by mail, but he was blocked by the Republican-led Legislature and conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court. Evers and others had warned that allowing in-person voting would cause a spike in coronavirus cases, but so far the impact appears to be limited.
Several of the 52 people who have tested positive and were at the polls on April 7 also reported other ways they may have been exposed to the virus, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said Tuesday. Because of that, it’s unclear if those people contracted the virus at the polls.
The 52 positive cases were in people who tested positive in the two weeks after the election, so by April 21. Most people show symptoms within 14 days of exposure, though some people who have the virus don’t show symptoms.
After next week, the state will no longer ask people who test positive for the virus whether they were at the polls on April 7 because of how much time has passed, said Julie Willems Van Dijk, who heads the state health agency.
“We’re getting to the point where the door will be closing on those,” she said.
Most of the positive cases were in Milwaukee County. The city’s health commissioner has said the data was being analyzed and an update was expected next week.
Statewide, there have been more than 6,200 confirmed cases and 300 deaths since the outbreak began.
Although voters had to wait in long lines on April 7, primarily in Milwaukee, that likely won’t happen with the May 12 special congressional election, where the largest city in the 7th Congressional District is Wausau, which is home to about 40,000 people. That House race is the only one on the ballot, unlike in this month’s election, which featured the presidential primary and a state Supreme Court race.
Election clerks in the district have said they’re ready for the election after they managed to make it through this month’s election despite the difficulties posed by the pandemic. There’s also a push to encourage absentee voting. About 71% of all voters in the April 7 election cast absentee ballots.
Evers has made no move to alter the special election even though as it currently stands, it would occur while his stay-at-home order is still in effect. The order is scheduled to run until May 26, but Republicans have asked the state Supreme Court to block it.
The 7th Congressional District covers all or parts of 26 northern and northwestern Wisconsin counties and is the state’s largest congressional district, geographically.
The race pits Democrat Tricia Zunker, president of the Wausau school board, against Republican state Sen. Tom Tiffany, who has been endorsed by President Donald Trump. Trump carried the heavily Republican district by 20 percentage points in 2016.
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