(Reuters) – A hotly contested Wisconsin Supreme Court seat was too close to call on Monday as results began to be released from chaotic state elections conducted last week despite health fears over the coronavirus and a flurry of 11th-hour legal challenges.
FILE PHOTO: Voter Matt Phillips feeds his completed ballot into a counting machine inside a polling station at Hamilton High School during the presidential primary election, held amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S., April 7, 2020. REUTERS/Daniel Acker/File Photo
Liberal Jill Karofsky had a narrow lead over Dan Kelly, a conservative incumbent endorsed by Republican President Donald Trump, with about half of the precincts reporting in the closely watched Supreme Court race.
The winner will help the court decide future voting rights and redistricting issues in Wisconsin, a vital general election battleground, including a case now before the court that seeks to purge more than 200,000 people from Wisconsin’s voter rolls.
Thousands of other state and local offices, as well as the Democratic presidential primary, also were on the Wisconsin ballot, but the release of the results had been delayed by the courts until Monday’s deadline for receiving absentee ballots.
The tumultuous process in Wisconsin, which featured an explosion in absentee balloting and long lines of voters braving health risks and stay-at-home orders, was seen as a potential preview of the national election in November if the pandemic lingers.
State Republicans, warning of possible fraud and administrative issues if the elections were delayed, had won legal challenges blocking Democratic efforts to postpone Tuesday’s in-person voting and extend the time for absentee voting.
But Democrats said Republicans were primarily motivated to keep down turnout in the Supreme Court race, particularly in Democratic-dominated urban areas such as Milwaukee, where a lack of workers meant the closure of all but five of the city’s usual 180 polling places.
All absentee ballots had to be hand-delivered or postmarked by last Tuesday and received by 4 p.m. CDT (2100 GMT) on Monday to be counted, and the results started being released after that.
The election turmoil overshadowed the Wisconsin Democratic presidential primary between former Vice President Joe Biden and his last remaining rival, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.
Biden, who became the likely Democratic nominee to face Trump in the Nov. 3 election when Sanders dropped out last week, was projected to win easily by the Associated Press.
Sanders dropped out the day after the Wisconsin voting was finished, and endorsed Biden on Monday.
Reporting by John Whitesides in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney