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Wisconsin officials push absentee voting in virus shutdown

March 16, 2020 GMT

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Candidates and political parties aren’t pushing to postpone Wisconsin’s presidential primary next month, instead urging voters to cast absentee ballots rather than line up at the polls as the national slowdown to contain the new coronavirus deepens.

Georgia and Louisiana have postponed their presidential primaries and Ohio is considering delaying its election, now set for Tuesday. In Wyoming, state Democrats have canceled the in-person portion of their upcoming caucuses and will instead rely on ballots that were already mailed to all registered party members. Officials in Maryland and New York have said they’re considering mailing primary ballots to all registered voters.

No one is talking about canceling or postponing Wisconsin’s April 7 election, at least not yet. The ballot features the Democratic presidential primary as well as a state Supreme Court race between conservative Justice Daniel Kelly and liberal challenger Jill Karofsky. But things are looking tenuous after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday issued recommendations to limit gatherings to no more than 50 people.

The Wisconsin Legislature could change state law to postpone the state’s April 7 election, but Republican legislators and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers have agreed on almost nothing over the last year, and absentee and early voting has already begun.

“We are encouraging people across the state to avail themselves of absentee balloting or early voting,” Evers said during a conference call with reporters on Monday. “We are evaluating, watching this as it goes forward. We’re hopeful to hold it on the day if we possibly can.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

The state Elections Commission on Friday urged people to vote via absentee ballot rather than travel to the polls, and to register quickly. The deadline for registering by mail or online ends Wednesday; after that people will have to register in-person at their local clerk’s office or at the polls.

The state Democratic Party on Monday urged Wisconsin residents to vote early or request an absentee ballot. The party last week postponed in-person events ahead of the election.

Kelly was scheduled to attend a St. Patrick’s Day Party hosted by the Wisconsin Conservative Digest on Monday evening in Milwaukee County. The event’s organizer, Chris Lawrence, said he expected at least 100 people and that social distancing is an “overreaction” to the virus.

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“We understand politically (health officials) have to overreact rather than underreact,” Lawrence said. “We just believe in taking the proper precautions. Wash your hands. Stay home if you’re sick.”

Kelly’s campaign manager, Charles Nichols, said Monday afternoon that Kelly had decided not to appear at the gathering. He added that the campaign had nothing to do with Lawrence’s characterization of social distancing as an overreaction, saying Kelly canceled two events on Saturday and has canceled three to four events next week. Kelly plans to use phone calls, virtual online events, post cards and television ads to reach voters, Nichols said.

Kelly launched a television ad Monday in Milwaukee, Green Bay, La Crosse, Wausau and Madison as part of a $500,000 buy.

The spot features actors playing a waitress and customers in a cafe. The waitress asks the customers what they would like and they reply that they want a judge who protects the public and doesn’t make the law up.

The camera then pans to Kelly sitting in his robe at the end of the counter. “Sounds good to me,” he quips.

Karofsky campaign spokesman Sam Roecker said she too has canceled in-person events and has stopped knocking on doors. The campaign instead has turned heavily toward calling, emailing and texting voters as well as television, he said.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.