WASHINGTON - The governor of the Midwestern U.S. state of Wisconsin on Monday called off Tuesday's Democratic presidential primary election in the face of a rising tide of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths in the state.
Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, issued an executive order postponing the election until June 9. He acted in response to widespread demands that he unilaterally postpone the voting when he was unable to agree with the Republican-controlled state legislature on a plan for moving the vote to a later date and the terms of the balloting, such as whether to allow mail-in voting.
More than a dozen U.S. states have postponed Democratic presidential primaries in April and May between former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders until weeks from now in hopes that by then the effects of the virus will have dissipated enough to allow voters to show up at polling places to cast ballots without endangering their health.
But Wisconsin was the last holdout refusing to postpone its vote until Evers acted.
Evers said that if state Republican lawmakers object to the postponement, the dispute could still end up before the state supreme court later in the day.
Evers had previously said he alone could not unilaterally push back the date of the election and needed legislative approval. Key state Republican lawmakers called Evers's action "an unconstitutional overreach" and vowed to try to get the state supreme court to let the election go ahead as planned.
But Evers told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper, "The bottom line is the people of Wisconsin, they don't care about the fighting between Democrats and Republicans - they're scared. I'm standing up for those people who are afraid and that's why I'm doing this."
More than 2,200 confirmed coronavirus cases have been reported in Wisconsin and 73 deaths.
If the election were held, hundreds of polling places throughout the state would not be open for lack of Election Day workers. Workers by the droves canceled their promise to work at the polls checking in voters from registration lists.
Recent polling shows that Biden is running well ahead of Sanders in Wisconsin.
Biden appears to hold an insurmountable lead over Sanders in pledged delegates to the Democratic presidential nominating contest in August and is likely to face Republican President Donald Trump in the November national election. But on Sunday Biden did not directly call for postponement of the Wisconsin election, telling ABC's "This Week" show, "Whatever the science says, we should do."
Sanders had called for the election's postponement.
Residents in 41 U.S. states are under orders from their governors - including Evers in Wisconsin - to stay at home except for essential trips out into the public, but Evers did not include voting as essential in issuing his stay-at-home edict.
Some Wisconsin Republicans suggested that Evers did not aggressively push to win legislative votes to postpone the election until recent days. On Saturday, Evers sought to move the voting to May 19 and convert it entirely to mail-in voting, but the Republican-controlled legislature quickly adjourned. It also did not block the election when it met briefly Monday ahead of Evers's order.
Federal district court judge William Conley had refused to stop the election, saying he did not have the power to do so.
"Let's assume that this is a bad decision from the perspective of public health, and it could be excruciatingly bad," he said last week. "I don't think it's the job of a federal district judge to act as a super health department for the state of Wisconsin."
On Sunday, the mayors of Milwaukee, the biggest Wisconsin city, and the state capital of Madison and other Wisconsin mayors asked state homeland security officials to make the decision to postpone Tuesday's election, but Evers postponed it with his order.