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2020 Daily Trail Markers: Wisconsin voters go to the polls amid coronavirus

Voters in Wisconsin traveled to the polls on Tuesday in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster says voters went to the polls after days of legal battles over challenges to the election and state leaders failing to take action to move the election day, as many other states have. In the days leading up to voting, local election officials and health experts raised concerns about a lack of poll workers leading to fewer voting sites and larger crowds. State officials encouraged people to vote absentee and the record number of absentee ballot requests has pushed the limits for clerks trying to keep up with demand. While 11 states and Puerto Rico have moved their primaries, and others have moved to conduct them with mail voting, Wisconsin legislative leaders held firm in conducting the election on April 7. Voters are also casting ballots for a state supreme court seat and other local officials, in addition to the presidential primary. 

Cities around the state consolidated voting locations, and the most crowded sites have been in Milwaukee. The city is operating just five in-person polling sites rather than its usual 180. Neil Albrecht, the executive director for the city of Milwaukee Election Commission, said wait times were 1.5 to 2 hours on Tuesday morning. "I think this is a very sad situation for the voters in Milwaukee and across the state," Albrecht said. More than 2,400 Wisconsin National Guard members were available to help fill the shortage of poll workers. Albrecht said Milwaukee didn't realize how much help it would get until after they made the decision to open just five locations. He said he could only open the number of sites that he felt "confident and comfortable" operating.

On Monday, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers made a Hail Mary attempt to delay in-person voting until June, but the move was blocked by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Evers issued a statement on Tuesday saying he was "deeply concerned about the public health implications of voting in-person today," but added that he was "overwhelmed by the bravery, resilience, and heroism of those who are defending our democracy." The United States Supreme Court also issued a ruling on Monday blocking an extended deadline for absentee ballots to be returned. Those ballots need to be postmarked by Tuesday or be delivered by hand the time polls close.

The bitter legal battle over changes to the election is likely  a preview of fights to come over voting by mail, according to CBS News political correspondent Ed O'Keefe and CBS News producer Rebeca Kaplan. Democrats are pushing for hundreds of millions of dollars to help states expand early, absentee and mail-in voting. "(You) have all the experts, both political parties and academia laying out what it would take to have voting by mail. I'd much prefer to have in-person voting but it depends," Joe Biden said on Tuesday. But most Republicans, including President Trump, don't like the idea. At Tuesday's Coronavirus Task Force Briefing, Mr. Trump said there is "a lot of dishonesty going on with mail-in ballots," although a reporter pointed out that he voted by mail in the Florida election. "Because I'm allowed to," Mr. Trump responded.

Results from Wisconsin are not expected to be released until April 13 due to a court order last week requiring results be held until that date.

FROM THE CANDIDATES

JOE BIDEN

Civil rights icon and Georgia congressman John Lewis endorsed Biden on Tuesday and advocated for him to pick a woman of color as his running mate, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson writes. While Biden is still not the official Democratic nominee, he told NBC's "Today" his team is still putting together a list of women to vet for the Veepstakes. Standing in his way is Bernie Sanders, who Biden said he would like to be a part of his campaign's "journey." This wouldn't be as a running mate, as Biden already declared he would pick a woman, but as more of big-tent gesture for the Democratic Party. Later on in the day, Biden zeroed in on the president's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. A day after his "good call" with Mr. Trump about the response to the crisis, Biden said Mr. Trump's "failings and his delays continue" and that the U.S. "continue[s] to see it, and it's causing real pain for so many Americans."

CONVENTION(AL) WISDOM

FUNDRAISING FOR DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION CONTINUES AMID CORONAVIRUS CONCERNS

In the latest indication the Democratic National Committee is moving ahead with plans to hold its nominating convention in August in Milwaukee, organizers continue to hit up major party fundraisers for big bucks with promises of special access, report CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson and CBS News associate producer Ellee Watson.

In an email obtained by CBS News from multiple donors, national finance chair Chris Korge informed the mostly wealthy Democratic donors on Tuesday morning that "in light of the unprecedented health crisis facing our country," the party was forced to pursue alternative plans for the convention, pushing the convention from July to the week of August 17.  

But at the same time, some Democratic operatives tell CBS News organizers are being encouraged to slow down a bit on fundraising in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

As concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic may be closing down businesses and leaving millions of Americans unemployed, the DNC is moving forward with financing for the expensive summer convention.

Korge told high-dollar Democratic donors in the email that the new fundraising deadline for special convention packages is April 30. Read more here

LIFE AFTER 2020

ELIZABETH WARREN

Senator Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday called on Congress to "provide no less than $4 billion to ensure that states have the resources they need to successfully administer elections" amid concerns the spread of coronavirus will stunt voter turnout., CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak reports that Warren outlined in a Medium post four key elements to ensure Americans can safely vote. Warren asked Congress to require states to allow all eligible Americans to vote by mail, a measure Mr. Trump has vehemently opposed and that was proposed in a bill from Senators Amy Klobuchar and Ron Wyden. Warren also wrote that Congress should heighten sanitation guidelines, require that poll workers are paid hazard pay and require states to allow early voting for 30 days. Warren also said Congress needs to "shore up" Postal Service funding ahead of mail-in voting. Warren said action needed to come swiftly. "Our government needs to act immediately to make sure elections in the United States can proceed safely, securely, and on time —  even as this outbreak drags on," she wrote. 

ISSUES THAT MATTER

HEALTH CARE

Amid calls by Democrats for the federal government to reopen enrollment for the Affordable Care Act, a new analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found between 670,000 and 2 million uninsured people across the country could be hospitalized for COVID-19. CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice says the study also found treatment could cost between $13.9 billion and $41.8 billion. The KFF analysis is based on existing data and information on coronavirus' expected spread and hospitalizations. This comes as at least 11 states and Washington D.C. have reopened enrollment under the Affordable Care Act. At the same time, a growing number of House and Senate Democrats, as well as Biden, are urging the Trump administration to reopen enrollment for the ACA. The Trump administration has so far rejected the move but has indicated it will foot the bill. "I can so proudly announce that hospitals and health care providers treating uninsured Coronavirus patients will be reimbursed by the federal government using funds from the economic relief package Congress passed last month," President Trump said at a press briefing on Friday. That stimulus package included $100 billion for hospitals and other health care entities treating COVID-19.

CONGRESSIONAL COVERAGE

IN THE SENATE

Senate campaigns have slowly started to release how much they have raised in the first quarter of 2020, and on Tuesday, both major candidates in Michigan announced they raised more than $4 million, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson. Incumbent Democratic Senator Gary Peters held his best fundraising quarter yet, according to his campaign, but he still trailed his likely Republican opponent John James. Peters raised more than $4 million, and James brought in $4.8 million, according to his campaign. James outraised Peters by over $1 million in the final quarter of 2019, according to Federal Election Commission filings. The Michigan race is on pace to be an expensive Senate race heading into November. Already, data from CMAG/Kantar shows the campaigns and outside groups have spent more than $10 million in ad buys in the state.

STATE-BY-STATE

TEXAS

The Democratic Party of Texas filed a lawsuit against the state on Tuesday, claiming that the current provisions to obtain an absentee ballot are discriminatory, and that all voters should be able to cite "social distancing" as a valid reason to receive a mail ballot. The lawsuit specifically cited the state's election code about voters who "are sick or disabled" being eligible for a mail ballot.

"Plaintiffs further contend that participating in social distancing, to prevent known or unknown spread of what Governor Abbott has described as an 'invisible disease' is a sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on election day without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter's health," the lawsuit reads. Three registered voters from Bexar and Travis County are listed as plaintiffs on the court documents, and they are all seeking to be able to request a mail ballot for the upcoming July 14 runoff elections, originally slated for May 26. 

The lawsuit also referenced Tuesday's Wisconsin elections, saying that the constant battle over the primary date "demonstrate the disarray and voter confusion that results from inadequately planned elections held during a pandemic." Tuesday's lawsuit builds upon a March lawsuit Texas Democrats filed against Travis County, Texas.  "This lawsuit will allow any person who does not want to risk their health or that of their family's during this coronavirus pandemic to vote by mail... No Texan should have to worry about risking their health in order to exercise their right to vote. We must act before it's too late," state Democratic party chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. 

In response, Texas Republican chairman James Dickey said the Texas Democrats' lawsuit to alter the election laws "is yet another naked power grab." Dickey told CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro that they'll continue to fight against the lawsuit, and pointed to prior comments by a Democratic County Clerk and an election administrator about the difficulties and flaws with mail in ballots.

"Both said that not only would this not be physically feasible to do in time but that mail in ballots have been proven repeatedly to be the most error prone, and the most fraud prone method of voting," he said. "There are significant physical, practical difficulties. But the bigger thing is that every valid vote that is invalidated by the theft or misapplication of an invalid vote is a straight up disenfranchisement of a voter."

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