WASHINGTON — Joe Biden has defeated Bernie Sanders in the Wisconsin Democratic primary, NBC News projects.
Wisconsin released the results of its controversial election Monday evening, nearly a week after voters turned out in face masks and gloves to cast a ballot despite the coronavirus pandemic.
A federal judge gave the state an extra six days to receive and count the unprecedented surge in absentee ballots voters requested to avoid going to the polls and barred the state from releasing results of the April 7 election until April 13.
Heading into Wisconsin, Biden had already amassed a nearly insurmountable lead over Sanders of 1,223 delegates to 915 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, which will be held in Milwaukee in August after it was pushed back a month due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Sanders beat Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin in 2016, but was trailing Biden in Marquette Law School’s final poll before the 2020 contest.
Sanders dropped out of the Democratic primary the day after Wisconsin’s election, staying in long enough to get his supporters to turn out for a key state supreme court race, and the Vermont senator endorsed Biden on Monday in a surprise appearance on the former vice president’s live-streamed campaign event.
Thanks to those mailed-in-ballots, turnout may actually be on par with past elections despite the fear of contagion and a statewide stay-at-home order.
Nearly 1.3 million Wisconsin voters requested absentee ballots and 1.08 million returned according to the Wisconsin Election Commission, compared to the little over 1 million total ballots cast (both in-person and absentee) in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary and the 1.11 million cast overall in 2008 Democratic primary.
Historically, just 5 percent or so of Wisconsin voters cast an absentee ballot while the vast majority voted in person, but that ratio may be close to reversed this time.
But both parties are closely watching for results of a heated Wisconsin Supreme Court race as well as how the virus affected overall turnout.
Conservatives have a majority on the seven-member high court, most of whom are elected, but liberals have been trying to make the balance more equitable before the court takes up some major voting rights cases in the most important swing state in the country ahead of the November presidential election.
Democrats supported Jill Karofsky, a judge and former domestic violence prosecutor, while Republicans backed incumbent Justice Daniel Kelly, the former president of his chapter of the conservative Federalist Society.
Also on the ballot are thousands of municipal offices, including the mayor of Milwaukee, which is part of the reason why state officials resisted postponing the election, even as every other state in the country that planned to hold an election in April rescheduled.
The Wisconsin race was marred by legal and political disputes after the state’s Democratic governor tried to call off the election at the last minute, citing public health, only to be rebuffed by the state’s Republican legislative leaders, who won judgments in their favor from the conservative majorities on both the Wisconsin and U.S. Supreme Courts.
A new controversy has emerged since the election after officials received thousands of mailed-in ballots that may not be counted because the U.S. Postal Service did not give them a dated postmark.
State law has no postmark requirement, but the U.S. Supreme Court added one by requiring ballots be postmarked by Election Day in order to be counted. Democrats on the Wisconsin Election Commission pushed to count those ballots, but Republicans said their hands were tied by the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez told reporters Monday that it’s “unconscionable” that the ballots would not be counted, calling the behavior of Wisconsin Republicans “voter suppression on steroids” and accusing them of trying to “steal this election.”