US state of Wisconsin forges ahead with vote despite health concerns

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Washington (AFP)

National Guard members will man some polling stations and voters in more than 100 municipalities will have nowhere to cast their ballots as the US state of Wisconsin holds elections on Tuesday despite the coronavirus epidemic.

Wisconsin, like dozens of other US states, is under a stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of the virus, which has caused nearly 10,000 deaths across the country.

And while 15 US states and one territory delayed presidential primaries because of COVID-19, the midwestern state -- barring a last-minute postponement -- is going ahead with its election on Tuesday despite health concerns and a shortage of poll workers.

Former vice president Joe Biden is favored over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the state's Democratic presidential primary to decide an opponent to face Republican Donald Trump in November.

Sanders, 78, called for the Wisconsin primary to be delayed while Biden, 77, the frontrunner in the Democratic contest, said it was up to local officials to decide.

Wisconsin's Democratic Governor Tony Evers has sought to postpone the election until May and have it done entirely by mail but the Republican-majority legislature adjourned over the weekend and again on Monday without taking up his proposal.

Two members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, in a letter to the leader of the state senate and speaker of the state assembly, said it was a mistake to proceed with the election "in the face of a deepening and escalating COVID-19 crisis."

"Forcing an in-person election on Tuesday not only threatens the voters, the clerks and election staff, it threatens everyone those people subsequently come into contact with at home and elsewhere," commissioners Ann Jacobs and Mark Thomsen wrote.

"A single asymptomatic virus-carrying poll worker could transmit the virus to hundreds of people on election day, creating a disease vector that would devastate a community," they said.

The election commissioners also said there was a severe staffing shortage at polling stations and 111 municipalities did not have enough poll workers to open single polling site.

They said others have had to be consolidated, risking the sort of crowding that health experts have warned can contribute to the spread of the virus.

Milwaukee, the biggest city in the state, for example, usually has 180 polling places, they said, but will have only five.

They also condemned a plan to bring in members of the National Guard to work at polling stations.

Besides the presidential primary, Wisconsin residents will also be voting for mayors, judges, county executives and other local officials.

According to the Wisconsin state health department, 2,267 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the state and there have been 68 deaths.