Democrats are furious after Wisconsin’s Supreme Court shot down a last-minute attempt to delay the state’s primary election.
Wisconsin voters headed to the polls on Tuesday after the state’s highest court rejected a last-minute executive order from Governor Tony Evers (D) to postpone elections — including the Democratic presidential primary — over the coronavirus, The Hill reported, sparking outrage from Democrats who say that Republicans are making voters choose between their health and their rights. Republicans in Wisconsin insisted that the governor’s move was illegal and that the election should not be delayed or tampered with.
Wisconsin Supreme Court upholds Tuesday primary
Wisconsin is now the only state to hold a Democratic primary in person this month, as the coronavirus has brought the presidential race, like the rest of American life, to a bizarre standstill. Many states have postponed their primary elections, and the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee has been pushed off until later in the summer.
Evers issued an executive order Monday to delay elections until June 9, but Republicans immediately challenged it and the state’s top court sided with them in a 4-2 ruling. The governor had repeatedly said that he cannot unilaterally change an election date, but he took the step after state Republicans lawmakers refused to budge on a scheme to let Wisconsin hold its elections entirely by mail, which Republicans said raised concerns about “election security.”
Wisconsin Republicans have said that Evers’ executive order is illegal, but Democrats in and outside the state claim that the court’s decision effectively forces voters to choose between risking their health and exercising their rights, as some liberals suggest that a nefarious Republican scheme is afoot to disenfranchise voters. Gov. Evers rebuked the state’s top court and the Republican-led legislature for their opposition to his order, saying in a statement:
“People have bled, fought, and died for the right to vote in this country. But tomorrow in Wisconsin, thousands will wake up and have to choose between exercising their right to vote and staying healthy and safe. In this time of historic crisis, it is a shame that two branches of government in this state chose to pass the buck instead of taking responsibility for the health and safety of the people we were elected to serve.”
Supreme Court tightens absentee ballot deadline
On the issue of mail-in ballots, the Supreme Court dealt another punch to Democrats Monday with a 5-4 decision requiring that all absentee ballots in Wisconsin’s elections be postmarked no later than Tuesday. Their decision, upheld by the court’s five conservatives, overturned a last-minute ruling from a federal judge that gave voters until April 13 to return their ballots. Wisconsin election officials have received requests for over 1.2 million absentee ballots, but just about 725,000 have been returned.
President Donald Trump and other Republicans have expressed concern that mail-in voting raises the possibility of fraud. In general, conservatives tend to favor rigorous, in-person voting with ID to ensure that ballots are legitimate, but liberals often consider such measures a form of cheating or disenfranchisement.
A number of states have either switched their Democratic primaries to mail voting or delayed them, and Democrats are pushing to make mail-in voting a possibility this November across the nation.
Liberal justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, echoing Democrat officials almost verbatim, said that the majority’s ruling “forces voters to choose between endangering their safety by showing up in person or losing their right to vote.” But the majority stressed that the sudden extension “fundamentally alters the nature of the election,” writing:
“This Court has repeatedly emphasized that lower federal courts should ordinarily not alter the election rules on the eve of an election.”
Coronavirus upends Democratic primary
Donald Trump’s presumptive challenger, Joe Biden, backed efforts to make remote voting in November a possibility. While Biden endorses letting voters cast ballots without showing their faces, the candidate has himself been out of the public eye lately as the country hunkers down in isolation and bigger concerns over health and the economy dominate the news coverage.
Many conservatives argue that Biden is senile and that establishment interests are seeking to take advantage of his incapacity. In this context, mail-in voting this November will probably spur speculation of rigging to boost the candidate, who has struggled to generate voter enthusiasm despite his status as the unofficial nominee.
In the meantime, Wisconsin voters go to the polls Tuesday under guidance to observe social distancing precautions, NBC reported. With thousands of poll workers out, Wisconsin has deployed the National Guard to help voters at polling stations, as Milwaukee downsizes from 180 stations in 2016 to only five voting centers. In addition to the primary contest, a state Supreme Court seat and a spate of down-ballot offices are also up for grabs.