Putting the 52 people who worked or voted in Wisconsin election and have COVID-19 in perspective

Apr 30, 2020 | Coronavirus

“Democrats point to images of masked voters waiting in long lines to cast ballots in Wisconsin’s April 7 primary to argue that reducing in-person voting is crucial to public health. . . . ‘Voting by mail is central to this in any event, but at the time of the coronavirus, very essential,’ said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.)”

Lindsay Wise and Alexa Corse, “Partisan Fight Looms Over Voting by Mail,” Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2020.

“The Democratic Party, arguing that fear of coronavirus exposure is a condition that should allow any voter to apply for a mail-in ballot, filed separate lawsuits in state and federal court to expand vote-by-mail access.”

Chuck Lindell, “Texas Democrats seek swift ruling on expanding mail-in votes,” Austin Statesman, April 29, 2020.

“All registered voters in Los Angeles County will be sent a vote-by-mail ballot starting with the November general election. The county Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the proposal Tuesday due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic’s potential impact on the election. ‘No one should have to choose between their health and their right to vote,’ Supervisor Janice Hahn said in statement.”

Associated Press, “Los Angeles County to send mail-in ballots to all voters for November election,” The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, California), April 29, 2020.

Given our work on the link between mail-in voting and the crimes of vote fraud and vote buying, we have continued to follow the debate over moving to mail-in voting. As of April 29th, the media is making a big deal that 52 people who worked or voted in Wisconsin election have COVID-19. That is up from the number of at least 19 of such people who had contracted the virus by April 22, 2020.

— First, as ABC News notes: “It remains unclear how many — if any — of those people contracted the virus at the polls and health officials are still collecting testing and tracing information.”

— Second, the New York Times reports that “the incubation period, on average nearly six days.” And given that a full 22 days had passed since the vote by the evening of April 29th, it is quite possible that a lot these 22 people were infected long after the voting.

But the real question not being asked: even if all 52 were infected because of the vote, what is the rate of infection? There are a few numbers that we need to put together to figure that out.

Number of votes in Presidential Primary: 1,551,712. This is a slight underestimate of the total number of votes because not everyone who voted participated in the presidential vote.

Mail-in ballots: 1,003,422. However, some of these people who sent in mail-in ballots also showed up and voted in person, so this is an overestimate.

For both of these reasons, the total number of people who voted in person is greater than the difference between 1,551,712 and 1,003,422. But even taking just the difference between these two numbers shows a gap fo 548,290 voters. 

Next, there were 4,050 polling places in Wisconsin on April 7th. In Milwaukee, “there were 80 to 100 poll workers at each site, and about 30 National Guard members at each location. Workers were taking safety precautions.” So there were someplace between 110 and 130 people working at each location. But there were only five polling sites open in Milwaukee and it isn’t clear how the staffing of polling places in Milwaukee corresponds to staffing at polling places in the rest of the state. It is a guess, but suppose conservatively that the average polling site in Wisconsin had 50 people working at it — that is another 202,500 people who risked exposure. 

Conservatively, say the total number of people involved in in-person voting was 750,790.

Even assuming that none of those 52 people could have gotten the virus any other way, the infection rate was then at the very most 0.0069 percent. To put it differently, 6.9 out of every 1,000 people who participated got ill.



  1. Kevin Crystal

    0.0069 percent. To put it differently, 6.9 out of every 1,000 people who participated got ill.

    Did you mean 6.9 out of 100,000?

  2. Ed Weber

    The original ABC article says the 52 “tested positive” for COVID. It doesn’t identify how many were required hospitalization. I noticed many articles leave out numbers on those requiring hospitalization. The numbers hospitalized provide a better measure of stress on the medical system. The primary reason for lock-downs was to reduce the numbers of hospitalized to prevent overwhelming hospitals.


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