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Wisconsin holds primary vote despite coronavirus crisis

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Milwaukee (AFP)

Americans in Wisconsin began casting ballots Tuesday in a controversial presidential primary held despite a state-wide stay-at-home order and concern that the election could expose thousands of voters and poll workers to the coronavirus.

Democratic officials had sought to postpone the election but were overruled by the top state court, and the US Supreme Court stepped in to bar an extension of voting by mail that would have allowed more people to cast ballots without going to polling stations. Both courts have conservative majorities.

With the Midwestern state ignoring calls to postpone the primary over health fears, as several other states have done, many Wisconsinites were being forced into an agonizing decision: risk their health to fulfill their democratic right, or stay safe by staying at home.

In Milwaukee, voters' options have been drastically reduced due to a lack of personnel to staff the polling stations.

The city of 600,000 normally has some 180 polling locations open, but that number reportedly has been reduced to just five, prompting long lines in an era of social distancing.

"Be safe!" President Donald Trump tweeted overnight, as he encouraged voters to support a Republican candidate for the state's Supreme Court.

Tuesday's higher profile contest is between the two remaining candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination: former vice president Joe Biden, the frontrunner, and his lone remaining rival, leftist Senator Bernie Sanders.

Sanders, 78, opposed holding the primary as scheduled, saying people should never have to choose between voting and staying safe.

The 77-year-old Biden likely sees Wisconsin, where polls show him ahead of Sanders, as an opportunity to extend his lead. He has refrained from publicly calling for the primary's postponement, saying it was up to local officials to decide.

In the city of Kenosha, voters wearing masks and gloves lined up at the Journey Church, where polling personnel were also wearing protective gear.

Inside, voters stood behind a plexiglass barrier as staff checked them and National Guard personnel cleaned voting machines and helped maintain order.

Former first lady Michelle Obama, who rarely wades into politics, urged caution for Wisconsinites who were voting in person.

"If you have an absentee ballot, make sure to drop it off or mail it in today," she tweeted.

"If you are going to vote in person, make sure to prioritize your safety and the safety of others."

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