Opinion

Election Amidst a Pandemic: Voter suppression and reckless decisions

Entrance to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in the State Capitol in Madison
Entrance to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in the State Capitol in Madison Image By: Courtesy of Creative Commons

A profound silence fills the streets — families and individuals are tucked away in their homes as they socially distance themselves in light of the coronavirus. Since Governor Tony Evers’ "Safer At Home" order has gone into effect, all but essential operations and activities continue and the state of Wisconsin has basically been frozen in time and place. In what seems like a dystopia, where children are not playing in playgrounds, students are not attending classes on campus and many employees are not working at their offices, the in-person election planned for April 7 is still being held — and that’s absurd. 

With the 2020 presidential primary, a seat on the state’s supreme court and other local-level positions all on the ballot, this election is detrimental to the future of Wisconsin residents. Not to mention its importance on a national scale with the state being an essential battleground for November. 

After Gov. Evers signed an executive order on Monday, April 6 to postpone the Spring Primary until June 9, there was a sigh of relief. Though last-minute, Wisconsinites were reassured that their leadership made the morally right decision to delay the election — to put the health and safety of voters and poll workers at the forefront of their agenda. Turns out, we should’ve held our breath. 

After the urging of Wisconsin GOP lawmakers, the Wisconsin Supreme Court blocked the order by a 4-2 decision along ideological lines, thus reinstating the primary as scheduled. 

After Indiana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and countless other states postponing their primary elections and expanding absentee voting guidelines, it comes as a shock that Wisconsin’s institutions have ruled otherwise. 

“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,” Gov. Evers stated in a press release following the decision. “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.”

Not only did the Wisconsin Supreme Court issue a decision detrimental to democracy, but in a 5-4 ruling, the conservative-leaning SCOTUS also blocked Wisconsin’s extension of the absentee ballot deadline — both happening within hours of each other. 

"The Court’s order, I fear, will result in massive disenfranchisement. A voter cannot deliver for postmarking a ballot she has not received. Yet tens of thousands of voters who timely requested ballots are unlikely to receive them by April 7, the Court’s postmark deadline,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg dissented. 

Oh, the irony of a court suspending its oral arguments in light of a pandemic and subsequently ordering the continuance of an in-person election. 

These institutions, that are expected to uphold the rule of law along non-partisan lines, have grossly and recklessly used their powers to essentially disenfranchise thousands of voters across the state — so much for free and fair elections, I guess.  

And as many Wisconsinites still wait for their ballots to be received by mail, it is unlikely they will have the chance to participate in tomorrow’s Spring Primary because of SCOTUS’s requirement to postmark ballots by April 7. Tens of thousands of ballots will be thrown out. 

And with the reduction of polling locations across the state, not only can voter turnout be expected to drop, but it will increase the health risks for those who do choose to vote in-person. I mean, the dramatic cutback of Milwaukee’s polling locations is a testament to this very fact — the most populated city in the state will have to vote among just five of the previous 180 polling places. 

And since it’s not enough that the public is anxious over COVID-19, the courts decided to include a bit of chaos into the mix as well. Voters have had to keep up with the news, changing by the hour, and seek out information about election procedures. This whole ordeal has only added to the confusion and uncertainty felt by Wisconsinites. 

This is voter suppression, point-blank. 

In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, the Wisconsin GOP has forced residents to weigh the pros and cons of risking their wellbeing against their right to vote. It’s ridiculous. 

It is now hours before the Primary is set to take place, and there are nearly 2,500 cases of COVID-19 and over 80 deaths in Wisconsin, with numbers rising by the day. It is irresponsible to use this scenario for partisan success; frankly, it’s inhumane. 

Voters deserve an election without obstacles prohibiting them to participate — without it being used as a political pawn amidst a global health crisis. 

No one should be required to choose between their health and their civic duty. It is senseless to ask voters to risk their lives, especially those who are or are quarantined with immunocompromised individuals, all to exercise their constitutional right. 

It’s hard to fathom that this could be happening in the country considered to be quintessential of democracy and individual rights. I guess it’s time we stop romanticizing our system and start seeing it for what it really is: a puppet show run by the rich, white and powerful. 

Kavitha is a junior studying Political Science and Sociology, with a certificate in Educational Policy Studies. Do you think the decision to continue with in-person voting on April 7 is an act of voter suppression? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com 

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