UW-Oshkosh research shows connection between April 7 election and spread of coronavirus


OSHKOSH, Wis. (WFRV) – Economists with the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh have led research that indicates “a significant association between in-person voting and the spread of COVID-19 two to three weeks after Wisconsin’s primary election on April 7.”

According to a release from UWO, the working paper by Chad Cotti, Bryan Engelhardt, and Joshua Foster in collaboration with colleagues at Ball State University was posted online with the National Bureau of Economic Research this week.

During their research, the team analyzed county-level data from the state of Wisconsin. The team also touched on those who waited in long lines in Green Bay and Milwaukee.

“Our results confirm the Wisconsin Department of Health Services findings on the link between the spread of COVID-19 and voting using testing and tracing methods,” Engelhardt said. “However, the tracing investigation undertaken was not comprehensive, and our results indicate a much larger potential relationship.”

The team explains that counties that had more in-person voters per location—with all else being equal—had a higher rate of positive COVID-19 tests than counties with relatively fewer in-person voters.

“Furthermore, we find a consistent negative relationship between absentee voting and the rate of positive COVID-19 tests. Similar to patterns with in-person voting, this association appears two to three weeks after the election and persists across a number of specification tests, but it is not observed in the week prior to the election,” Engelhardt explained. “Given these results, it may be prudent that policy makers and election clerks take steps to expand the number of polling locations or encourage absentee voting for future elections during the pandemic.”

Details about this research come after advocates for people with disabilities and minority voters in Wisconsin filed a sweeping federal lawsuit asking a judge to order that more poll workers be hired, every voter in the state receive an absentee ballot and a host of other changes be made to ensure the August primary and November presidential election can be held safely amid the coronavirus pandemic.


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