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At Least Seven People Contracted The Coronavirus During Wisconsin's Elections, Officials Say

In-person voting went ahead earlier this month after Republicans fought a delay and mail-in ballots. Now people are beginning to get sick.

Last updated on April 22, 2020, at 10:18 a.m. ET

Posted on April 21, 2020, at 5:10 p.m. ET

Kamil Krzaczynski / Getty Images

Voters in Milwaukee wait in line, April 7.

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At least seven people in Milwaukee are believed to have contracted the coronavirus from taking part in the Wisconsin elections on April 7, according to the city’s health department.

Ahead of the vote, Wisconsin’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, had sought to delay the in-person voting and extend the deadline for mail-in ballots out of concern that the polls could become hot spots for spreading the coronavirus. But the state’s Republicans fought his efforts all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, forcing the election to be held as planned.

“Everything that we were fearful of and everything we warned about has unfortunately started to come true,” said Philip Shulman, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Democratic Party, told BuzzFeed News. “This is exactly why we pushed to change the way the election was administered.”

On Election Day, Wisconsin’s Republican House Speaker Robin Vos broadcast a video to assure Wisconsinites they were safe to vote while he wore a mask and full-body protective gear. And on Tuesday, the Republican legislature filed a motion in support of a state Supreme Court lawsuit seeking to end the governor’s stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The Wisconsin Republican Party did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the legislature’s Republican leaders.

These seven new coronavirus cases are the first to be officially confirmed as linked to Election Day in Milwaukee, which had one of the state’s largest outbreaks of the coronavirus at the time. Large numbers of poll workers quit out of health concerns, and the city could only staff five polling places instead of the 180 it normally operates. Some Milwaukee voters spent hours in line in order to cast their ballots.

In a statement to BuzzFeed News on Tuesday evening, the Wisconsin Department of Health said they had not yet seen evidence of a large surge in cases linked to election day. Statewide, 19 people who tested positive for the coronavirus after election day reported visited a polling place. But, spokeswoman Jennifer Miller said, several of those people reported other possible exposures as well. But the numbers could continue to grow as more data comes in. The Milwaukee Health Department has only collected 30% of data concerning the period following April 7, said Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik, but it hopes to have complete data by the end of this week.

Democrats proved to have a superior turnout operation than the Republicans for voting amid the pandemic. The progressive candidate for the Supreme Court seat, Jill Karofsky, overwhelmingly defeated the incumbent, Daniel Kelly, who was endorsed by President Donald Trump.

Wisconsin will again confront the question of voting during the coronavirus pandemic next month when a special election is scheduled to fill a vacant seat in the northern 7th Congressional District. Shulman said the Democratic Party was still weighing legal options to try to shift away from in-person voting.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.