At least 71 individuals in the state of Wisconsin who voted in person or performed tasks as poll workers during the April 7 statewide election contracted coronavirus just a few weeks later, according to the state’s Department of Health Services.
Gov. Tony Evers had attempted to delay the spring election, first by asking the Republican-controlled state legislature to postpone the vote. When GOP lawmakers refused to cooperate, Evers took executive action on his own, but the state Supreme Court ruled his executive order as inappropriate on April 6. Later in the same day, the U.S. Supreme Court also ruled against an absentee ballot extension Evers had also imposed, which would give voters the chance to vote without having to go to the polls.
Both rulings meant that a number of state residents would have to vote in person during the spring election.
It’s unclear whether those 71 people who tested positive for the disease had contracted it at polling places that day or not — it’s possible, for example, that a number of them had been exposed to coronavirus in some other way. A new study, however, sheds some light on the subject, and suggests that having the polls open on that day likely led to a spread of the disease.
Economists conducting research at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Ball State University say they’ve gathered data demonstrating counties across the state saw a higher rate of coronavirus cases if they also had higher in-person voting rates during the spring election.
While the researchers admitted their data was not complete, the correlation between voting in person and higher COVID-19 rates seemed apparent.
“Across all models, we see a large increase in COVID-19 cases in the weeks following the election in counties that had more in-person votes per voting location. Furthermore, we find a consistent negative relationship between absentee voting and the rate of positive COVID-19 tests,” the study’s authors wrote.
In other words, in counties with high absentee ballot rates (and low in-person voting numbers), incidents of coronavirus didn’t appear to rise as steadily as they did in counties with higher in-person voting numbers.
The study also found that, for every increase of 100 individuals within a county who cast in-person ballots on April 7, there was generally a consistent 3.4 percent uptick in coronavirus cases observed two to three weeks later. Conversely, greater use of absentee ballots saw less instances of coronavirus cases, though the observed decreases were less than 1 percent, on average, for every 10,000 absentee votes cast.
Last week, the state Supreme Court ruled against Evers yet again, finding his stay-at-home executive orders to be unconstitutional.
Their ruling effectively “reopened” the state, with the exception of a few pockets of local governments that instituted their own stay-at-home orders immediately after the decision was made. In response, many citizens across the state flocked to reopened bars and restaurants, often without wearing masks or observing other social distancing measures.