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2 views on Wisconsin’s decision to hold in-person voting Tuesday

The coronavirus pandemic has delayed many presidential primaries, but Wisconsin is going forward with its own on Tuesday. It's the first state to hold a major election with in-person voting amid a stay-at-home order -- and much legal jostling preceded the decision. Amna Nawaz talks to the state’s lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes, and Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In Wisconsin, voters headed to the polls today, following days of confusion.

    Amna Nawaz has more on the first state to hold a major election with in-person voting in the midst of a stay-at-home order.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Multiple political and legal battles preceded today's contests.

    The Wisconsin Supreme Court yesterday overturned an executive order by the state's Democratic governor to put off in-person voting until June. And the U.S. Supreme Court ruled along ideological lines to cut off an extension for absentee voting.

    Wisconsin stands in contrast to more than a dozen other states that have delayed their primaries in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

    We get two views now, first from Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes.

    Lieutenant Governor, welcome to the "NewsHour." And thanks for making the time.

    You made clear how you feel about this in a tweet this morning. You said — quote — "Good morning, and welcome to the S-show." That stands for a word I cannot say right here.

    Tell me specifically, what are you worried about the impact of today's elections will be?

  • Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes:

    Well, I honestly feel that I was sharing the frustration of so many people across our state, people who wanted to exercise their right to vote, the people who requested an absentee ballot and have not gotten one yet, the people who have been standing in line for two hours to vote.

    I believe that I shared their frustration. This is a day that didn't have to happen. And it definitely didn't have to happen in this fashion.

    Governor Evers issued an order to try to delay this election, to move it until June. And Republicans in the legislature, they decided to put people's health and safety at risk and in jeopardy.

    And in doing that, they have caused mass hysteria. They have caused chaos. And we see it at the polling locations. You see where people unaware of what to do, because they have an absentee ballot that they may not have been able to return yet.

    They have been told that if you didn't return the absentee ballot in or and if you haven't received one already, even though you have requested one, that you were expected to show up and vote in person.

    Now, that compromises a person's health, because we know that coronavirus has run rampant. Here in this state, we have over 2,500 positive test results. We're now up to 92 deaths in our state. People don't want to take that risk.

    And what it does is, it disenfranchises voters. It makes people not want to get up, get out of the house and go risk it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let me ask you, Lieutenant Governor, about that confusion, though, because there's been criticism of Governor Evers too.

    You have had cases, coronavirus cases, in Wisconsin for several weeks. He didn't move to change anything about the election until just a few days ago. If public health is really the primary concern, why not change something sooner? Why not act earlier?

  • Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes:

    I mean, the governor, even before yesterday, called on the legislature to act on the election.

    He also moved to make sure — or to make it possible for people to return their absentee ballots to April 13, almost a week after today. And many people operated under that assumption.

    And it's a shame and it's unfortunate that Republicans in the legislature decided that they want to roll back those provisions to allow people to come get a chance to exercise their right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I know this is — there's been a greater push by Democrats to also move, especially during the pandemic, to greater mail-in voting means.

    I want to put to you what Republicans say about that, though. They say overhauling the systems in 50 states is no easy task, it opens up the process to a whole new world of fraud. And they also accuse Democrats of taking advantage of the pandemic to get around what they call election integrity.

    What do you say to that?

  • Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes:

    The thing, when they say it's no easy to ask, what is easy? We are dealing with a pandemic. Nothing is going to be easy right now.

    We have to — people are changing their entire ways of life. It's not easy for farming communities. It's not easy for urban communities. It's not easy for sick and elderly populations. It's not easy for a whole lot of people. But it is up to us, as government, to be able to respond appropriately.

    And that means we have to take on the tough tasks. You shouldn't seek elected office if you aren't ready to take on the tough task. And if creating a process, a system that would allow for more access to voting, more access to democracy, is something that overwhelms you, then you probably shouldn't be in office or a decision-making capacity.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Lieutenant Governor, I should ask.

    The election. Of course, is not just about a Democratic presidential primary. There are a lot of state and local offices at stake today. People say, isn't it important to get those roles filled because we're in a pandemic? You need officials in those spots right now.

  • Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes:

    In the event that the election was delayed, as it should have been, I don't think that it's too much of an inconvenience to have those people in office for another month or two, given the circumstances, given the fact that we are dealing with a pandemic.

    Like I said, this is not easy for anybody. We have to make certain adjustments. And I think that that is one that people would be able to agree upon.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes with us today.

    Thank you for your time.

  • Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes:

    Thank you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And for a different take, I'm joined by Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee.

    Ms. McDaniel, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    I want to start by asking you to speak directly to folks in Wisconsin.

    What do you say to the voters who feel like they have to make a choice today between protecting their health and exercising their right to vote?

  • Ronna McDaniel:

    Well, the RNC hasn't engaged in states that are changing their elections.

    And that's up to your governor and your state legislature. Where we intervened in Wisconsin specifically is when the DNC came in and tried to remove safeguards to the integrity of the election, like I.D. requirements or extending the election an additional six days, and keeping it open for six days.

    So, that's when we intervened. But we haven't done that in any other state as they have moved their elections. That's really up to the local state government.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    To be clear, it was Republicans on the ground who were pushing back against the efforts to move the election.

    Understanding that Governor Evers' efforts came late just a few days before the actual election, should they have allowed the election to go forward today?

  • Ronna McDaniel:

    That's a state issue.

    The RNC only got involved when the DNC filed a lawsuit to remove those safeguards. And that's why we have been engaged in Wisconsin. But the legislature and the governor needed to come together and work on that. And I think the governor, as the leader of the state, should have acted sooner and started doing all these 11th-hour proposals to try and change the election.

    And I think it's a failure of leadership on his part that he didn't move sooner.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let me ask you from the voter's perspective

    And there's clearly an access issue. There were a number of polling places that had to be closed because of coronavirus concerns. Do you believe that everyone in Wisconsin who was eligible to vote got their chance or will get their chance to do so today?

  • Ronna McDaniel:

    So, Wisconsin still had early voting. And they still had the absentee — opportunity to receive those absentee ballots. None of that was prevented through this process.

    What we felt uncomfortable with is an election being open for seven additional days, when you had an Election Day of April 7. So, anyone who postmarks their ballot by today at 8:00 p.m., their vote will count.

    And that is the right way. We want everyone to be able to vote. We just want to make sure there are safeguards that make sure that people who shouldn't be voting don't vote.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    There are concerns about the absentee ballots, though. There were a number of people, thousands of people, in fact, who requested them who still haven't received as of this morning.

    With all the confusion around that process, do you really believe that everyone there who wants to vote will get a chance to do so today?

  • Ronna McDaniel:

    Well, they're going to have to look to their state government, because the governor and the legislature was pushing for April 7.

    And if they didn't get that process done, that's going to be up to the state to make sure that they got those ballots out. Of course, we want everyone to be able to vote. What we didn't want is to see safeguards taken away, like I.D., making sure that the voter who is turning in the ballot is the voter whose name is on the ballot, those types of things that safeguard the integrity of the election.

    With so much uncertainty right now in our country, we need people to have competence in our election process. And that's why the RNC got involved and pushed for these I.D. requirements, the witnesses for absentee ballots, and also not keeping an election open six additional days beyond the election date.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    While there is a global pandemic, while the virus still is — of cases rising here in the United States, do you believe any state should be holding in-person voting?

  • Ronna McDaniel:

    You know, what — that's going to be up to the state governors to decide.

    You haven't seen the national parties get involved in that. That's up to the states and the legislatures, based on what's happening with their population.

    What I will say, though, is, you have seen, at the national level, Democrats try and push election agendas, like ballot harvesting, which certainly isn't safe when you're going door to door to collect ballots, or things like getting rid of absentee witness I.D. requirements.

    So those are things that we're going to push back on. We do not want to dismantle the things that keep our election integrity in place. And that's where the RNC is getting involved.

    The states can determine when they hold those elections. That's why the states and the governors and the legislatures have that role.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, joining us today.

    Thanks for your time.

  • Ronna McDaniel:

    Thank you.

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