Biden wins controversial Wisconsin primary held despite coronavirus stay-home orders

Former vice president Joe Biden's victory demonstrates the strength of his candidacy in key battleground states. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, won the Wisconsin primary on Monday (April 13), nearly a week after the state held controversial elections that forced voters to defy a stay-at-home order to cast their ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With 50 per cent of precincts reporting, Biden had 63.4 per cent of the vote. Bernie Sanders, who dropped out of the race last week and endorsed Biden earlier on Monday, had 31 per cent. Although Sanders has said he will stay on the ballot for the rest of the primary contests, Wisconsin's primary marks the last time ballots will be cast in a race that includes more than one candidate campaigning for the nomination.

Biden's victory further demonstrates the strength of his candidacy in key battleground states ahead of a general election match-up with President Donald Trump. In 2016, Sanders handily defeated Hillary Clinton in the Wisconsin primary, winning nearly 57 per cent of the vote. Last month, Biden won the Michigan primary, another contest Sanders won in 2016, by more than 16 points.

Wisconsin's election, held April 7, has been mired in partisan acrimony. Democrats sought to postpone the vote because of the virus, as public health officials warned against public gatherings urged all residents to stay in their homes. But Republicans in the state legislature and the courts ordered the vote to proceed, blocking the governor's order for a delay.

The release of the results was delayed until Monday afternoon by a court order in a dispute over absentee ballots.

On Election Day, many polling stations were closed due to staffing shortages as workers stayed home, requiring voters to wait in hours-long lines. In Milwaukee, for example, only five of the roughly 180 poll locations were open.

Many states have postponed their upcoming presidential primaries as stay-at-home orders remain in place across most of the country. In Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan ordered the state's June 2 primary to be conducted mostly by mail with limited in-person voting.

Senate Democrats have been calling for money to expand vote by mail capabilities ahead of the November general election and want to see increased absentee voting options. But Republicans, including Trump, have pushed back with unsubstantiated claims about fraud.

"Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting," Trump tweeted last week. "Democrats are clamouring for it. Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn't work out well for Republicans."

Beyond the presidential primary, voters were closely watching the race for a state Supreme Court seat, where Daniel Kelly, a conservative incumbent justice who was endorsed by Trump, was defeated by a liberal challenger, Jill Karofsky.

She will serve on the court as it decides on a Republican push to purge more than 200,000 people from voter rolls before the November election in a state Trump won by just 0.77 per cent in 2016.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said Karofsky's victory came despite Republican attempts at "voter suppression" during a public health emergency. The result, Perez said, "speaks to Democrats' incredible enthusiasm advantage and should terrify Donald Trump and every other Wisconsin Republican."

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