Wisconsin Elections: Voter Suppression in a Pandemic?
In the midst of the Coronavirus confinement, the Republican Supreme Court of Wisconsin imposed in-person voting, putting voters at risk and aiding in the suppression of votes.
If it happens in one state, it can happen in any other.
That is the conclusion that many of us drew from what happened in the Wisconsin primary, where voters had to go to the polls despite orders to stay home and social distancing to avoid the spread of the Coronavirus.
After the state Supreme Court blocked a proposal to give residents an extra week to vote by mail, the lack of volunteers –and the general panic over the contagion– reduced polling places in cities like Milwaukee to only 5 out of 180, causing long lines of people waiting to exercise their constitutional right.
Similarly, citizens across the state reported problems with absentee ballots. Some were never received, while others could not be legally supervised, and some voters simply feared to leave their homes to cast their votes, according to the New York Times.
This was not just a Democratic primary. Voters also had to choose a new state Supreme Court justice, as well as the Marsy’s Law amendment and another new appellate court judge in District 2.
The argument as to why the state Supreme Court insisted on holding elections in such critical circumstances as the Coronavirus pandemic could be precisely over its vacant seat.
As MSNBC explained, this is a key move that "might very well affect policymaking in one of the nation's most important swing states for the next decade.”
“Wisconsin is home to one of the more egregious examples of state legislative gerrymandering in the nation: in the last round of balloting, Democratic candidates received 53% of the votes, while Republicans ended up with 64% of the power,” the media explained.
This has been a strategy implemented by the Republican Party in the state for more than a decade, in which they have "clinically attacked" the state's Democratic institutions and implemented voting laws "that make it much more difficult for poor and black urban residents to vote," according to the Times.
On Tuesday, "an overwhelmingly black and Hispanic population" was waiting in line for hours to cast its vote.
“The Court’s decision particularly gives African American voters, the historic backbone of the Democratic Party, a life-and-death choice,” The Atlantic explained. "Wisconsin has more than 2,500 coronavirus cases, and some populous cities (of more than 70,000 residents) have only one polling location. Early data also shows that African Americans die of the coronavirus at a higher rate than whites.”
So far, the Wisconsin Supreme Court is dominated by five conservative justices, out of seven seats, and Tuesday's election sought to give incumbent Daniel Kelly a full first term against District Court Judge Jill Karofsky.
If he wins, Kelly will be the missing piece of the GOP's puzzle to block any Democratic attempt to change the state's voting laws, especially considering the 2020 census data will also shape voting districts for the next ten years.
And if anyone is clear about what it would mean for the Republican Party if everyone could vote safely and without hindrance, it is the president.
In an appearance on Fox News this week, Trump rejected the effort by Democrats in the House of Representatives to get billions of dollars in electoral assistance for the anti-Coronavirus economic stimulus package.
The bill that finally came to the president's desk for signature included $400 million, "a fraction of what Democrats had been looking for," Politico said.
"The things they had in there were crazy,” the president said. “They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”