Updated at 3:23 p.m. ET on April 14
How could Democrats win a statewide election that they had seemingly conceded—that they had tried in vain to prevent from even taking place?
That was the question in Wisconsin this morning, after the party celebrated the unlikely ouster of a conservative justice in a crucial race for a seat on the state’s highest court. With former Vice President Joe Biden now the presumptive Democratic nominee, following Senator Bernie Sanders’s withdrawal from the presidential race, the results of the party primary had become moot. The far more consequential race was the judicial election, and Judge Jill Karofsky’s defeat of incumbent Justice Daniel Kelly gave Democrats an important victory—delayed by nearly a week as a deluge of absentee ballots was counted—in what was essentially a trial run for the November election in the closely divided swing state.
But the bigger mystery was how it had happened at all.
In the days leading up to last Tuesday’s vote, Democrats had done all they could to call off in-person balloting in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, either by switching to an all-mail election or by postponing the vote until June. Republicans had rebuffed them at every turn, insisting that the election go on as scheduled, even if it meant voters would have to risk their health—and violate a statewide stay-at-home directive—to cast a ballot at the few polling places that had enough workers to staff them. (In Milwaukee, the state’s largest city, just five out of 180 polling places were open.) When Democratic Governor Tony Evers issued a last-minute order to postpone the election, Republicans persuaded conservatives on both the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court to block him.