Wisconsin judge elected amid coronavirus pandemic calls victory ‘bittersweet’ following an ‘uptick’ in state’s cases

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“In the end, my campaign was rewarded for our persistence and patience. But victory is bittersweet. It was unacceptable to hold an election under circumstances in which people were forced to choose between their safety and voting. It disenfranchised countless people and raised serious concerns for the future of our democracy,” Justice-elect Jill Karofsky wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times.

“Now, over two weeks later, we have an uptick in Covid-19 cases, especially in dense urban centers like Milwaukee and Waukesha, where few polling places were open and citizens were forced to stand in long lines to cast a ballot,” wrote Karofsky, who previously served as a county judge.

There are currently more than 5,900 cases in Wisconsin and more than 100 deaths caused by the virus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. At the time of the election on April 7, there were more than 2,500 cases and more than 90 deaths in the state, according to the university.

The state health department said at least 36 people who said they voted in-person or worked the polls for the primary election had tested positive for coronavirus as of Monday.

However, last week, Wisconsin Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk noted that several of those people “reported other possible exposures as well.”

Democrat wins Wisconsin race that Republicans insisted on holding despite pandemic

The election had been a point of contention between the Democrats and Republicans, with the GOP insisting it go on even as public health officials were urging Americans to stay home to avoid contracting the deadly virus. Karofsky’s win was an embarrassment for state and national Republicans, who had blocked Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ bid to postpone the election or have it conducted entirely by mail and had fought in court against rules that would have made it easier to cast absentee ballots.

Karofsky wrote that the US Supreme Court, which ruled just before the election that ballots must be postmarked by election day on April 7, “erred” in its decision, which she said “they didn’t have the time to think through and that caused tremendous confusion in my state.”

“I find it unconscionable that Wisconsin voters were forced to choose between their safety and having their voices heard in our democracy. The right to vote is fundamental to the American creed,” she wrote. “Courts making partisan decisions, sending people out to vote in the middle of a global pandemic, is exactly what’s wrong with a judiciary that has become too political, and I think a deliberate attempt to suppress the vote in Wisconsin.”

The newly elected justice also blasted a decision by the state’s Supreme Court to halt Evers’ order postponing the election until June, saying that both that ruling and the US Supreme Court’s ruling “are seen as being along partisan lines, with allies of Republicans refusing to delay the election.”

Karofsky also noted that “every member of the Wisconsin Supreme Court had already voted early. They weren’t putting themselves at risk.”

Karofsky’s victory reduces the conservative majority on Wisconsin’s high court to 4-3. It could also position her to cast the deciding vote in a closely watched case over a GOP effort to purge the state’s voter rolls of more than 230,000 people who could have moved.

CNN’s Eric Bradner and Ariane de Vogue contributed to this report.

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