Judge Criticizes Wisconsin Gov. for Not Delaying Primary Election, Milwaukee Mayor Says Don't Go to the Polls

Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and the state's lawmakers were criticized by a federal judge on Wednesday for not postponing the state's primary election, set to take place next Tuesday, amid the coronavirus outbreak.

"The State of Wisconsin's Legislature and governor are not willing to step up and say there's a public health crisis and make it absolutely clear that we should not be allowing poll workers and voters to congregate on April 7," U.S. District Judge William Conley said, closing a four-hour hearing.

Conley, who said he didn't have the power to order an election delay, is considering amending voting rules to mitigate the risk of coronavirus spreading among citizens who decide to head to the polls.

The judge called on Evers and the Republican-controlled state legislature to protect the public, rather than risk their safety by carrying through with the election. "You expect the State of Wisconsin to realize this is a hurricane and prevent [the election] and stop it for public health reasons," he said. "I don't see a basis on which I can stop this, albeit it's a very risky decision by the State of Wisconsin."

Primary elections
A man uses a manual voting machine at the North Riverside Village Commons on March 17, 2020 in North Riverside, Illinois. Jonathan Daniel/Getty

On the same day, Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett also criticized the state government for allowing such a risk amid a global pandemic. "I don't think that it's good public policy, I think it's dangerous during a pandemic," he said during a conference call with reporters, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "And I hope that people do not go to the polls on Tuesday."

While Barrett says he wants citizens to vote, he explained that he doesn't want them to "put their lives in jeopardy" to do so. "I don't want them to put the health and safety of our poll workers in jeopardy," the mayor added.

Barrett advised citizens to "get an absentee ballot and return an absentee ballot," rather than vote in person.

Senator Bernie Sanders has called for the state to extend early voting, postpone its election and shift to vote-by-mail. "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," he said, according to the Journal Sentinel. "We urge Wisconsin to join them."

Sanders is running against former Vice President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination.

On Wednesday evening, approximately 1,550 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the state of Wisconsin, with 25 deaths caused by the novel virus.

Newsweek reached out to Evers' office for comment.