Amidst the most deadly and widespread pandemic in over a century, Wisconsin proceeded with an in-person election.
Thousands of otherwise voters were unable to participate in the democratic process. Thousands of voters who did risked their lives.
What happened on Tuesday isn’t just voter suppression. It is electoral violence.
The election didn’t have to be like this, and for a few hours, at least, it wasn’t. The reason Wisconsin finds itself in this situation is because the Wisconsin Republican legislators put us here.
The decision to proceed with in-person voting during this pandemic was a swift legal battle.
Gov. Tony Evers issued an executive order Monday morning, postponing the next-day election until June to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Later in the day, the Wisconsin Supreme Court overrode the governor's decision.
Also on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the absentee ballot extension. The Supreme Court, which has been meeting remotely for weeks, came to a 5-4 decision that extended absentee voting would “fundamentally alter the nature of the election.”
The in-person election would go on.
In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writes, “under this Court’s order, tens of thousands of absentee voters, unlikely to receive their ballots in time to cast them, will be left quite literally without a vote.”
As of Election Day, over 9,000 people who requested absentee ballots had not received them. Over 400,000 absentee ballots have not been returned. Up until the day before the election, voters thought they had until April 13 to send them in.
From the start, Wisconsin Republicans opposed both postponing the election and extending absentee voting. They accused the governor of political games and “last-minute schemes.”
When the court decisions came, Wisconsin Republicans celebrated. After all, it was them who brought the cases to court.
During the biggest disruption to daily American life in over a century — closed schools, a stay-at-home order, a historic public health crisis — Wisconsin Republicans fought to continue the election as if nothing were wrong.
They fought for this.
The election took place shortly before the “peak” — the start of what is predicted to be the time of the highest death rate as a result of COVID-19 infections.
According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an estimated 644 people will lose their lives to COVID-19 in Wisconsin. Thousands more will fall ill.
Note: these projections assume “full social distancing through May 2020.” They do not account for the crowded spaces and long lines associated with in-person voting in America.
On social media, people posted images of voting lines stretching blocks and wrapping around buildings. This was expected.
In Milwaukee, a shortage of poll workers reduced a typical 180 polling locations to five. 50,000 Milwaukee residents were still expected to vote in person, putting each voting site at an average of 10,000 visits.
The White House’s guidelines suggest avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people.
As Kavitha Babu writes, proceeding with this in-person election is more than irresponsible, “frankly, it’s inhumane.”
Frankly, this election is an act of violence.
Electoral violence usually evokes images of men with bats and bloody streets. It happens somewhere in the past, or in nations with troubled democracies. Or, so we thought.
The United Nations defines electoral violence as “[an attempt] to delay, prevent the vote or compilation of votes, in order to obtain results, which do not reflect the verdict of the ballot box.”
Last week on Fox News, President Donald Trump claimed that a vote-by-mail proposal by House Democrats would ensure no Republicans would “ever be elected again.”
A day before the election, in a jointly-released statement, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau encouraged voters to visit polling places to cast their vote.
This election is an act of violence.
There aren’t men with bats outside of polling places. The human cost isn’t immediately visible, but the result is the same. At the threat of physical harm, the right to vote is being suppressed.
On Election Day, people faced the decision to vote in-person and exercise their civic duty or protect their own life, and the lives of their family, by staying home and not voting.
Just because the decision to proceed with the election came from the highest courts does not mean it is morally or ethically justified. Our own American history of what is right, and what is legal, proves this.
The Supreme Court has upheld violence before. For over one-hundred years, slavery was legal in the United States. When state and local laws codified systems of oppression in Jim Crow, the Supreme Court upheld them in Plessy v. Ferguson. Sometimes, the courts simply get it wrong.
Yes, Democrats stand to lose electorally from this. Republicans in Georgia admitted as much when similar absentee ballot measures were proposed there.
But, there’s more than electoral victories at stake in this election. This is about human lives.
Who will suffer the most from COVID-19? The elderly, those with immunocompromised systems, those with respiratory issues, those with heart disease and other chronic conditions. A recent article by Ibram X. Kendi examines how COVID-19 disproportionately affects people of color. People with lower incomes and people experiencing homelessness don’t have the privilege of social distancing like wealthier Americans.
These are the people Wisconsin Republican legislators are willing to endanger with this election.
This isn’t the first time Wisconsin Republicans have made voting difficult. In Wisconsin, there’s a GOP legacy of voter suppression.
But this time, Wisconsin Republicans are weaponizing a pandemic. Voters meet a dangerous, and in some cases, deadly, decision: exclude yourself from democracy or risk your health by in-person voting.
The decision to hold in-person voting will cost lives. COVID-19 doesn’t care who you voted for, or if you voted at all. The decision to hold in-person voting meets us all.
No election is worth your life, but for some in Wisconsin, this will be the case.
Wisconsin Republicans had the choice between COVID-19 and democracy. They sided with the pandemic.
We don’t know where we’ll be in November. COVID-19 could be a bad memory, or an autumnal resurgence could put us back into today’s situation.
Either way, do not forget what Wisconsin Republican legislators did in the most trying times of our democracy.
At the end of all of this, when the bodies are counted, they will likely claim they had no choice. They did everything they could and democracy is messy.
We will know better, and we will vote like it.
Michael is a senior studying German and Political Science, with certificates in African, European, and Middle East Studies. Do you believe forcing in-person elections in Wisconsin under current circumstances is an act of electoral violence? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.