On Monday, April 6th, Wisconsin’s Governor Tony Evers issued an executive order postponing the April 7th primary election to June 9th, highlighting the risks of gathering in public spaces amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Hours later, the state Supreme Court sided with the Republican-controlled Legislature and overturned the governor. Voters looking to avoid the polls due to the pandemic applied for absentee ballots, but the U.S. Supreme Court yet again sided with the Wisconsin GOP and rejected the proposed extension. Thus, all absentee ballots were required to be delivered by 8:00pm on Tuesday.
The result? Tens of thousands of potential voters in Wisconsin could not cast their ballots.
In response to the inevitable polling, state Democrats mobilized to ensure as much protection for voters and poll workers as possible, providing protective equipment, reaching out to public health officials, and offering ‘drive-up’ voting stations. Despite their efforts, in Wisconsin, polling places dramatically decreased; the most obvious examples were in Milwaukee; as the well populated city went from having 180 polling places to just five. On top of that, the thousands of Wisconsin voters that broke the stay at home order to vote waited in line for hours, huddled in crowded lines without the necessary personal protective equipment. The results of such intense voter suppression are already being discovered, as the rates of in-person turnout are significantly lower than prior spring elections.
To put it simply, Wisconsin Republicans displayed exactly what they prioritize on Monday and Tuesday; and it’s not public safety nor preserving civil liberties. The motives of Wisconsin Republican leaders like Andrew Hitt and Robin Voss were purely political. This election was particularly important for Wisconsin, as on the ballot was not only the presidential primaries between Senator Bernie Sanders and Vice President Joe Biden, but the state Supreme Court battle between conservative incumbent Daniel Kelly, and liberal contender Jill Karofsky. Historically, Republicans in Wisconsin have earned more votes when fewer people vote; thus, this challenge to preserve the rights of Wisconsin citizens was just another effort from the Wisconsin GOP to curb voter turnout. From the racially oppressive photo-ID requirements, to continued and frankly shameless gerrymandering, Republicans in Wisconsin have never shied away from repressing voters.
Furthermore, marginalized communities are the most impacted by this war on voter rights. Republican constituencies, like rural voters and higher-income people, may find it easier to cast their ballots by mail, or make it out to the polls with the proper protective equipment. Racially marginalized people and lower-income communities, who are typically Democratic voters, find the process alienating, and inaccessible. President Trump himself declared that postponing the election, and thus increasing voter turnout, could lead to “levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
For a party that prides itself on preserving ‘constitutional liberties’ and freedom of speech, it is not only hypocritical, but appalling that Wisconsin Republicans overtly stripped thousands of Wisconsinites of their fundamental right to vote to promote their own agenda. In terms of voting, there is nothing more suppressing and disenfranchising than making people choose between their health and safety, and casting their ballot. Ultimately, not only did the Republican party of Wisconsin inform state-wide voters that their voices are unimportant unless privileged and able, but they told the world that Republicans are not committed to protecting citizens amid this pandemic.
Wisconsin should have postponed its primary election; in fact, every other state that was scheduled to hold an election in April postponed it. To put it simply, the elections on Tuesday were disastrous and unnecessary. The GOP asked Wisconsinites to risk their health – and in some cases lives – to participate in what should be an accessible democracy.
Henceforth let’s hold all governmental establishments and politicians accountable, to ensure political agendas are never prioritized over public health and wellbeing.
By Maggie Di Sanza