Wisconsin election jeopardizes both democracy and life itself
Jim Carpenter protests Tuesday's scheduled election amid the coronavirus pandemic, Monday April 6, 2020, in downtown Milwaukee. | Morry Gash

Citing the coronavirus-induced public health crisis, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers issued an executive order to halt in-person voting for the April 7 state primary, postponing it to June 9 on Monday. But late Monday evening, the Wisconsin Supreme Court overruled Evers, mandating that the election go ahead as scheduled.

“The virus directs us as to what our decision-making is, not human beings, and clearly I am following the science, as I always have,” Evers told POLITICO. Holding the election clearly endangers the lives of thousands of voters who may venture to the polls.

“Given that, I felt that the governor is the one who has to step up and stand for those people that aren’t having their voices heard,” said Evers.

Evers issued a stay-at-home emergency order for the state beginning March 25, which was to last at least until April 24. Under the stay-at-home rule and fear of increasing coronavirus infections and deaths, turnout is expected to be dismal. Mayors across the state have been pleading for weeks to have the election moved to later in the spring, citing a massive shortage of poll workers.

Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers ordered that the election not be held April 7, but the GOP successfully challenged his order in court and forced an election that endangers the health and the lives of the few voters who do show up. | AP

Sixty percent of municipalities report poll watcher shortages, and over 100 municipalities say they will not have necessary poll workers to run elections. The city of Milwaukee, home to the state’s largest concentration of African-American and Latino voters, said it could only open five polling locations when 180 usually are operating. The state’s basic voting infrastructure is threatened with collapse.

Late last week, the Republican-dominated Wisconsin legislature blocked an effort by Evers to move the April 7 primary amid the mounting coronavirus pandemic. On Saturday, the state and national GOP sought a restraining order from the U.S. Supreme Court that would have extended absentee voting to April 13. They got their wish, with the court blocking an absentee extension on Monday evening, just after the Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered the election to proceed.

The GOP action to force an election and restrict absentee voting, despite endangering the health of thousands, is seen as a brazen attempt to steal the November elections by ensuring various voter suppression plots. Trump won Wisconsin by 23,000 votes in 2016, and many election observers feel Wisconsin will be the “battleground” of battlegrounds in 2020.

The national GOP is frantically attempting to block any expansion of vote by mail state by state, fearing it will be normalized for the November election, driving up turnout. Trump even admitted this when he said a proposal by House Democrats to expand mail balloting “had things—levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

COVID-19 voter suppression: Trump admits GOP can’t win if many vote

At stake in the primary election is a crucial seat on the state Supreme Court, which Republicans dominate. They believe they can win the seat through voter suppression of heavily Democratic precincts. Democratic Party strategist Maria Cardona said, “Nothing less than democracy is at stake in the Supreme Court race.” The integrity of the November elections is on the ballot, she said.

A Wisconsin Justice ordered the purge of 232,000 voters in December in a case brought by the right-wing law firm with GOP ties, Law and Liberty. The State Election Commission, itself deadlocked, refused to remove the voters, and the case ended up before a Wisconsin appeals court which put the purge on pause in January. A divided Wisconsin State Supreme Court, with Justice Dan Kelly recusing himself, refused to hear an appeal on the case.

This April 6, 2020 photo provided by Scott Trindl shows one of the tables, fitted with protective plexiglass, at the sole polling location for city of Waukesha, Wis., residents. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Monday, April 6, 2020 moved to postpone the state’s presidential primary for two months because of the coronavirus pandemic, but a Republican court challenge has forced the vote to go ahead. | Scott Trindl via AP

Kelly, a GOP operative with little legal experience, was appointed by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker and had ties to Law and Liberty and is up for election in the primary. He had overseen the redistricting that cemented a GOP takeover of the Wisconsin legislature.

Despite recusing himself, Kelly has suggested he will rejoin the case after the election, possibly tipping the balance in favor of Republicans. The State Supreme Court hasn’t decided yet whether to take up the case, but a ruling favorable to Republicans could move the purge forward.

Kelly is opposed by Dane County Circuit Judge Jill Karofsky backed by Democrats. State Supreme Court races are ostensively non-partisan, and the victor wins a 10-year seat on the court.

The reality, however, is that going ahead with an election on April 7 is nothing less than a double-barreled shot fired at the people of Wisconsin. It is an unprecedented attack on voting rights and democracy and it simultaneously puts the very lives of the voters at risk.

Update: This story was updated after publication to reflect the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s ruling overturning the executive order issued by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to delay in-person voting until June 9. It was followed by a U.S. Supreme Court order on Monday evening to cut off an extension for absentee voting.


John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.