A Poor Time for a Primary


Many ordinary activities that people took for granted have been hit hard by the coronavirus. Working, dining at a restaurant, getting together with more than a handful of friends and watching TV sports come to mind.

Another activity sorely missing, especially in an election year, is presidential primaries. At least 15 states with primaries scheduled for March or April have moved them back on the calendar, usually to June. A few, such as Ohio, extended its deadline for mail-in or absentee balloting by several weeks.

But not Wisconsin, where voting went on as scheduled Tuesday after the state Supreme Court said the governor did not have the authority to postpone it by executive order.

Political strategy apparently played a role in the decision. Democrats, whose main interest is the presidential race between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, wanted the primary delayed. But majority Republicans were focused on the election for a state Supreme Court seat, where forecasters predicted that a lower turnout — meaning that some people were expected to avoid the polls due to virus fears — would help the conservative candidate.

Reports Tuesday indicated that plenty of people ignored the state’s stay-at-home order to line up to vote. But problems were likely to develop: Thousands of pollworkers backed away from the job as a safety precaution, and National Guardsmen were among those brought in as substitutes.

There were fewer polling places in some areas. The Associated Press said only five locations were open in Milwaukee, which usually has 180.

In fairness, Wisconsin so far has dodged a serious blow from the coronavirus. As of Monday night, the state reported only 2,500 confirmed infections and 77 deaths. But here’s the big question: How smart is it to hold an election when doing so could put public health at risk?

At the very least, Wisconsin’s decision will be a good test of the merits of voting during a health crisis. But not a wise one.