Partisan Advantage from the Pandemic
Imagine a place where school children are taught that their government rules by "the will of the people," where government officials are chosen in "free and fair elections," a place where Supreme Court judges are elected as non-partisan umpires of the rule of law and guardians of the people's will. In such a place, the State of Wisconsin, I was born, brought up, and schooled. Such were the civic ideals I was taught in those Wisconsin schools.
Last week in Wisconsin the date of the important, long-scheduled April 7 primary election fell during a worsening, deadly pandemic. The state issued a stay-at-home order and closed non-essential services as of March 25 to slow the spread of the virus. As the election date approached, many poll workers, unpaid volunteers and members of a high risk group, were so scarce that in Milwaukee, Wisconsin's largest city, there are only enough staff to open five of the usual one hundred and eighty traditional voting locations. The Elections Commission and the U.S. Post Office were so hobbled by the pandemic that many voters who requested absentee ballots didn't received them by election day. Fearing their vote won't be counted, these people were faced with a stark choice: expose themselves to the virus, standing for hours in long lines at the few open polling places, or stay home, stay safe--and have no voice.
Trump issued national pandemic guidelines on March 16 "including closing schools and avoiding groups of more than 10 people." In obvious violation of his own national guidelines, on the day of the Wisconsin election, Trump called out to his supporters in Wisconsin "Get out and vote NOW." Why would Trump weigh in? After all, this election was mostly about the Democratic presidential contest between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, wasn't it? Well, no. Mr. Trump exhorted his followers to go to the polls to vote for Wisconsin Supreme Court Judge, Daniel Kelly, a race that was mostly unnoticed except in Wisconsin. Judge Kelly was appointed by the former governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, in 2016, appointed to finish out the last four years of a 10 year term left vacant by retirement. Scott Walker, an abrasive Tea Party Republican elected in 2010, lost the governorship in 2018 to Tony Evers, a mild-mannered Democrat with a background in education. In this April 7th election Walker's Trump-friendly appointee to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Judge Kelly, was in serious jeopardy of losing to a less doctrinaire judicial candidate in a fair election. Still more telling of Trump's and the GOP's motivation: Judge Kelly, on April 6, the day before the election, joined the conservative majority of the court in a 4-2 decision against Governor Tony Evers' executive effort to postpone the April 7 Wisconsin primary election to June 9, a postponement clearly in the interest of a safe and fair election. Trump's interest in the Wisconsin Supreme Court? Wisconsin is likely a swing state in the upcoming November election. If the Wisconsin election is contested this fall (like Florida in 2000), having a partisan friend and a conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court would be pivotal.
In the days preceding the April 7 Wisconsin Primary, with this Wisconsin Supreme Court race at the forefront, the Republicans of the Wisconsin legislature and the "Republican National Committee, et al" fought tooth and nail to keep the election on the prescribed date with no accommodations. They obtained rulings from the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin (Judge Conley), and the U.S. Supreme Court in a case addressed, tellingly perhaps, "To the Honorable Brett M. Kavanaugh." The RNC and Wisconsin Republicans cast aside concerns about public health, cast aside the obvious contradiction between a stay-at-home order and gatherings at polling places, and ignored any concerns these facts might silence the voice of a large part of the electorate. All the rulings that came down were made along partisan lines, conservative judges appointed by Republicans siding with the RNC and more liberal judges all dissenting. (This NYTimes article sorts it out some.)
Ruth Bader Ginzburg wrote in her dissent to the U.S. Supreme Court case, “The court’s order, I fear, will result in massive disenfranchisement. Because gathering at the polling place now poses dire health risks, an unprecedented number of Wisconsin voters — at the encouragement of public officials — have turned to voting absentee,” she wrote. “About one million more voters have requested absentee ballots in this election than in 2016. Accommodating the surge of absentee ballot requests has heavily burdened election officials, resulting in a severe backlog of ballots requested but not promptly mailed to voters.”
I am sickened and angry at Wisconsin and national Republicans' abandonment of the common good in their pursuit of securing Republican partisan dominance. It is no secret that voters in the two main population centers of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and Madison, feel more threatened by the pandemic than are rural voters. Covid-19 cases are more prevalent in the dense populations of these urban areas than in smaller cities. It is also no secret that minority voters and Democratic voters are concentrated in these urban centers. The Republican National Committee saw an opportunity to use the threat of sickness and death to secure partisan advantage. Is there no sleazy avenue Republicans won't go down in their quest for power? The entire Republican Party has lost its soul.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. Here's the Wisconsin electoral context: In 2010, Republicans launched the national REDMAP Project, a cynical, nation-wide, computer-aided effort to secure state and federal legislative majorities in spite of a their representing a nation-wide dwindling minority. Republicans so effectively gerrymandered Wisconsin's state assembly districts after the 2010 census that, while they lost a majority of voters (garnering only 48.6% statewide in legislative races), they took 60% of the seats in the Wisconsin assembly. (You can see this march of minority dominance at this Ballotpedia entry under the subheading, "Historical party control.")
In the 2018 midterm election, Wisconsin voters booted out their detestable Republican governor, Scott Walker (later a featured speaker for the Spokane Republicans of the Washington Policy Center). They replaced Walker in with a Democrat, Tony Evers, by a slim majority in the state-wide election. At the same time, thanks to the effectiveness of REDMAP gerrymandering, Republicans kept a 63 to 36 majority in the Assembly (equivalent to the "House" in other states). It is this Assembly majority that strategically planned and saw fit to challenge any change in the details of the April 7 Wisconsin Primary.
P.P.S. Why is it that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear and pass judgement on this Wisconsin case, but refuses to hear and decide the case that might result in revealing Trump's taxes? Just asking...