The participation rate remained relatively high despite the coronavirus: NPR


Masked voters line up at Riverside High School for the Wisconsin primary election in Milwaukee.

Morry Gash / AP

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Morry Gash / AP

Masked voters line up at Riverside High School for the Wisconsin primary election in Milwaukee.

Morry Gash / AP

Wisconsin’s election last week was extraordinary for several reasons.

Unlike more than a dozen other states, Wisconsin advanced in the April 7 election against the coronavirus pandemic after the intervention of the state’s Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court.

When the results were finally released on April 13, former vice president Joe Biden won the state’s Democratic presidential primary and a Democrat-backed judge was elected to a 10-year term in the Supreme Court of Wisconsin.

This high-stakes court race was at the heart of the election dispute. Many liberals and electoral experts have accused Republicans of trying to cut participation by holding elections during a public health crisis.

But despite the extremely difficult conditions, which included closed polling stations, a statewide home order and social distancing guidelines, voter turnout was surprisingly robust.

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The estimated preliminary participation rate was about 34% of the state electorate. Although lower than the participation rate in the 2016 presidential primary, it was higher than 2012 and roughly equal to 2008.

“All of these factors seemed to be contributing to a real reduction in voter turnout,” said Barry Burden, director of the Center for Election Research at the University of Wisconsin. “But in the end, the voters responded. “

Electorate under tension

Throughout the past month, as the coronavirus shut down much of the US economy and infrastructure, voters continued to vote in large numbers.

On March 17, the last major date for multiple states to vote, Arizona and Florida have both exceeded their number of main participants since 2016, thanks in large part to the many mail-in and early-voting options available for these states.

While the 34% turnout this year in Wisconsin was lower than the 47% rate in 2016, that year also featured competitive primary races for the Republican and Democratic presidential contests.

Experts point to the highly contested race for the state’s Supreme Court, but also the broader political activism that was fueled by the election of President Trump in 2016.

“I think it’s a sign of unrest in the electorate,” said Burden. “We’ve really seen it during the Trump era since he came to the White House: turnout has been extremely high. The 2018 midterm elections were the highest turnout in a century by any means. “

The pandemic, and the government’s response to it, could give people even more reason to vote, said Burden.


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