To date, Georgia, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Louisiana, Kentucky, Puerto Rico, and New York have postponed their presidential primary elections.
But something just happened in Wisconsin.
On Monday, Gov. Tony Evers issued an executive order postponing the state’s primary to June 9, as his counterparts in other states have done.
Then the state’s Republican-majority supreme court intervened.
As a result, voters across Wisconsin woke up Tuesday with a choice Gov. Evers had effectively taken off the table: “Choosing between exercising their right to vote and staying healthy and safe.”
The night of Evers’ order, the state ruled elections must be held on schedule despite the coronavirus/COVID-19 public health emergency.
Pictures of voters jammed in queues flooded Twitter.
Here’s a look at the line once you get inside. It’s easy to spot who is a poll worker (all wearing blue gowns/masks) #WisconsinPrimary pic.twitter.com/g1qg1TCY4x
— Cassidy Williams (@CassidyWtv) April 7, 2020
Polls open in minutes. Here’s a look at the line in Waukesha, the city’s only polling location pic.twitter.com/Uqg08gannt
— Matt Smith (@mattsmith_news) April 7, 2020
Lines forming just 30 minutes after polls open in Milwaukee, people trying to space. Almost everyone has a mask pic.twitter.com/KVCJ7Ik0Xe
— Steadman™ (@AsteadWesley) April 7, 2020
HISTORIC: In the middle of a global pandemic, Wisconsin is the only state to move forward with an election. Polls now open until 8PM🚨 @GovEvers move to delay voting until June 9th was blocked by State Supreme Court. Updated details all day on @SpectrumNews1WI pic.twitter.com/ttZU0PZriu
— Asal Rezaei (@asalrezaeitv) April 7, 2020
Moreover, Wisconsin GOP lawmakers refused to advance vote-by-mail provisions that would prevent those crowds at the polls.
Due to fears of coronavirus exposure, thousands of poll workers decided to stay home, leading to dozens of polling places being shut down.
Naturally, there has been a surge of requests for absentee ballots leading to a federal district court to order an absentee ballot deadline extension.
So long as ballots are returned by April 13, the court stated, they will be counted.
A conservative appeals court upheld this decision.
Enter the Republican-majority United States Supreme Court.
By a 5–4 vote Monday, the nation’s highest court handed Wisconsin–and the entire country–what Mark Joseph Stern of Slate called “One of the most brazen acts of voter suppression in modern history.”
Absentee ballots postmarked and received after Election Day are invalid, the SCOTUS ruled, thereby reversing the federal circuit court’s deadline extension.
Ballots postmarked by Election Day but received by April 13, though, still count.
Since the Wisconsin supreme court refused to allow Gov. Evers to push up the date, voters had no choice but to submit ballots late because many did not receive them until after Election Day.
As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported:
“A little over an hour later, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a second blow to the Democratic governor by tightening limits on which absentee ballots can be counted. Under that 5-4 order, voters will have to mail back their absentee ballots by Tuesday, go to the polls that day or give up their opportunity to vote.”
The Court’s conservative majority defended the decision, claiming they are defending “the integrity of the election process.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the Court’s few liberal voices, however, wrote in her dissent the court’s order “will result in massive disenfranchisement.”
“Rising concern about the COVID–19 pandemic has caused a late surge in absentee-ballot requests. … Some 150,000 requests for absentee ballots have been processed since Thursday, state records indicate. The surge in absentee ballot requests has overwhelmed election officials, who face a huge backlog in sending ballots. As of Sunday morning, 12,000 ballots reportedly had not yet been mailed out. It takes days for a mailed ballot to reach its recipient—the postal service recommends budgeting a week—even without accounting for pandemic-induced mail delays. It is therefore likely that ballots mailed in recent days will not reach voters by tomorrow; for ballots not yet mailed, late arrival is all but certain.”
“The question here is whether tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens can vote safely in the midst of a pandemic. Under the District Court’s order, they would be able to do so. Even if they receive their absentee ballot in the days immediately following election day, they could return it. With the majority’s stay in place, that will not be possible. Either they will have to brave the polls, endangering their own and others’ safety. Or they will lose their right to vote, through no fault of their own. That is a matter of utmost importance—to the constitutional rights of Wisconsin’s citizens, the integrity of the State’s election process, and in this most extraordinary time, the health of the Nation.”
Make no mistake: this is a test-run for November, especially since there has been serious discussion lately about nationwide mail-in paper ballots.
And if there is one thing Republicans absolutely do not want, it’s more people voting.
Paul Weyrich, the founder of conservative think tanks The Heritage Foundation, the Free Congress Foundation, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, admitted as much at a religious right gathering back in 1980:
Last week, Donald Trump publicly echoed that sentiment when he admitted during an interview with Fox & Friends it was good increased voting protections and ballot access proposals were omitted from last week’s coronavirus relief package because “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
A broken clock is right twice a day, as the saying goes.
The Republican party has not legitimately won the White House since Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s.
Even though November 2018’s mid-term election results were historic, it does not mean the GOP has forgotten how to cheat to win.
From foreign trolls and bots, Fox News, Sinclair Broadcasting, right-wing hate radio, dog-whistle (and not-so-dog-whistle) racism, mendacious Facebook ads, and Donald Trump’s thousands of lies, the Republican party has its machine’s gears well-oiled.
Yet there is one area the Grand Old Party has identified as the country’s oft-ignored Achilles’ heel–voting.
Eleven years ago the Republican party was licking its wounds after the country elected its first African American president and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.
So Republicans came up with a strategy: concentrate on 16 states and gerrymander them so badly Democrats have little to no mathematical chance of winning in the 2010 mid-term elections.
But there was another, more insidious strategy.
Republicans knew they couldn’t come right out and criminalize voting, so they devised ways to make casting ballots harder, more inconvenient, and frustrating, hoping people would stay home rather than go through the rigmarole to practice their civic duty.
That’s when the term “voter fraud” started circulating around right-wing media. Simply accuse random people (mostly immigrants) of voting illegally, and enough “patriots” would rise up in an altruistic fervor to fortify the most fundamental of democratic institutions against those who seek to denigrate it.
Some (Republican) states began instituting “voter I.D.” laws, requiring birth certificates, drivers’ licenses, passports, to “protect election integrity.” After all, minorities vote primarily for Democrats. If they are to preserve their hegemony, Republicans must take evasive measures.
Voter fraud, however, is a myth.
Voter suppression is very much alive in America, and Republican states are setting a record for purging voting roles.
In December, the Associated Press (AP) published a report about Donald Trump’s re-election adviser Justin Clark admitting as much at a Nov. 21 Republican National Lawyers Association’s Wisconsin chapter event in–guess where–Madison, Wisconsin.
Clark is reported to have said:
“Traditionally it’s always been Republicans suppressing votes in places. Let’s start protecting our voters. We know where they are… Let’s start playing offense a little bit. That’s what you’re going to see in 2020. It’s going to be a much bigger program, a much more aggressive program, a much better-funded program.”
The AP explained:
“Both parties are pouring millions of dollars into the states, anticipating they’ll be just as critical in the 2020 presidential contest.
“Republican officials publicly signaled plans to step up their Election Day monitoring after a judge in 2018 lifted a consent decree in place since 1982 that barred the Republican National Committee from voter verification and other ‘ballot security’ efforts. Critics have argued the tactics amount to voter intimidation.”
That consent decree was established after the Democratic National Committee (DNC) sued the Republican National Committee (RNC) over the allegation the latter helped intimidate black voters in New Jersey’s gubernatorial election by positioning off-duty police officers at urban area polling stations wearing armbands reading “National Ballot Security Task Force”.
Some of those officers displayed visible firearms.
Now that consent decree has been lifted, “The RNC can work more closely with state parties and campaigns to do what we do best, ensure that more people vote through our unmatched field program,” as RNC communications director Michael Ahrens claimed.
This comes mere days after conservative group, Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, filed a lawsuit demanding Wisconsin purged 234,000 citizens from its voter rolls.
The state sent voters believed to have moved letters informing them they would be removed from voting lists if they did not respond within 30 days.
But that purge was not to take effect until 2021.
Justin Clark is heard in the audio recording as telling attendees:
“We’ve all seen the tweets about voter fraud, blah, blah, blah. Every time we’re in with him, he asks what are we doing about voter fraud? What are we doing about voter fraud?’ The point is he’s committed to this, he believes in it and he will do whatever it takes to make sure it’s successful.”
Trump narrowly won Wisconsin in 2016.
In recent years, Republicans drew electoral districts blatantly benefiting themselves, attempted unsuccessfully to curtail early voting, and implemented an austere voter-ID law that discouraged as many as 23,252 voters in 2016 from casting ballots.
One Wisconsin Now deputy director, Mike Browne, lashed out at Clark’s remarks and the strategy to disenfranchise Wisconsin voters:
“The strategy to rig the rules in elections and give themselves an unfair partisan advantage goes to Donald Trump, the highest levels of his campaign and the top Republican leadership. It’s clear there’s no law Donald Trump and his right-wing machine won’t bend, break, or ignore to try to win the presidency.”
A study from the Brennan Center for Justice reported last year that, between 2016 and 2018, at least 17 million voters were purged from nationwide voting rolls.
Voting districts with voter discrimination histories have purged 40% beyond the national average.
This is due almost entirely to the 2013 Supreme Court Shelby County vs. Holder decision that rolled back section five of the 1965 Voting Rights Act requiring states to receive Justice Department “pre-clearance” before initiating changes to voting laws that may impact minority voters.
The Brennan Center stated:
“As the country prepares for the 2020 election, election administrators should take steps to ensure that every eligible American can cast a ballot next November. Election day is often too late to discover that a person has been wrongfully purged.”
Just before the 2016 election, North Carolina permanently closed 158 polling places in the 40 counties comprising the most African American voters.
In 2018, the nation’s highest court decided in favor of the Eighth Circuit Court’s decision allowing North Dakota to require voters to maintain residential street address, not post-office boxes, and an accepted form of identification stating that address, a move that blatantly targets indigenous voters since many live on reservations with P.O. boxes instead of street addresses.
It also ramped up Republican voter-suppression tactics when it decided in a split 5-4 decision along partisan lines to permit Ohio’s system for stripping voters from the rolls to proceed.
Last August, it took the two-member Randolph County, Georgia elections board under one minute to vote to shutter seven predominantly African American polling places.
More than 85,000 Georgia voters were purged from rolls in just the three months leading up to election day in 2016, in what National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) president Derrick Johnson called “textbook voter suppression.”
And then there’s Florida, where then-Republican Governor now U.S. Senator Rick Scott teamed up with Donald Trump to accuse elections in danger of being “stolen” after Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered recounts in the Senate and gubernatorial races when unofficial results fell within the margin to legally trigger a recount.
As progressive talk show host and author Thom Hartmann wrote in “American Democracy Is on the Brink:”
“If we fail to do something large, substantial and dramatic about the scourge of voter suppression, we must all begin learning how to rivet chains.”
Republicans talk a good game about democracy and patriotism.
When it comes down to it, though, waving a flag is meaningless when one’s actions belie the very principles he or she claims to uphold.
Republicans do not want democracy.
They want an oligarchy.
But they know Americans outside the extremely wealthy do not.
So to maintain their wealthy donors’ hegemony, they try to prevent voters from exercising their fundamental right to choose whom they want to represent them.
Why else would they work so hard to suppress votes?
Why else would they court donors like the Koch brothers and Robert and Rebekah Mercer?
Image credit: billmoyers.com