The Oct. 26 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against a six-day deadline extension for mailed ballots in Wisconsin not only demonstrated a blatant disregard for voters’ safety, but an act of voter suppression that lended support to Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine a secure method of voting.
Democracy does not look like this — voting should be easy.
This election season is unlike any other. For one, the U.S. is leading the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths, with Wisconsin being one of its epicenters — as of Nov. 2, the state had 232,296 total cases and 2,050 total deaths.
The pandemic has made voter flexibility imperative: Health officials continue to emphasize the importance of social distancing, something that in-person voting greatly compromises. Now more than ever, voters, especially those who are at higher risk of severe illness caused by COVID-19, are relying on voting at home options.
In Wisconsin, as of Nov. 2, a total of 2,061,040 absentee ballots were sent out and 1,886,533 were returned, according to the Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC). That’s a 210.45 percent increase from the 663,882 absentee ballots sent and a 202.57 percent increase from the 623,503 absentee ballots received four years ago during the 2016 election.
This surge in mail-in ballots has created greater uncertainty as to whether or not a mailed-in ballot will be received by Nov. 3. Making a plan to vote and planning ahead are undoubtedly important, but punishing those who didn’t make a plan by forcing them to choose between a democratic right and exposure to a deadly virus is unacceptable — after all, voting under democracy, by definition, should not be a matter of life and death.
In his concurring opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch seemed to acknowledge this year’s unprecedented circumstances, but he failed to recognize the differing circumstances in which the state’s election rules were adopted.
“No one doubts that conducting a national election amid a pandemic poses serious challenges, but none of that means individual judges may improvise with their own election rules in place of those the people’s representatives have adopted,” he wrote.
Given the unique burden that is present during this election cycle, much of which being out of the voters’ control, it only makes sense that absentee ballots are given more time to be received and counted. In fact, just six months earlier, the Court allowed a six-day extension for ballots during the Wisconsin Primary Election. A WEC report showed that 79,054 ballots were received in the following six days of Election Day and were only counted because of the extension.
If 79,054 ballots were received after the April 7 Primary Election Day, when there were only 138 COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin, how many votes will not be counted because of ballots that are received after Nov. 3, when there were 3,433 Wisconsin COVID-19 cases as of Nov. 2? The willingness of the concurring judges to find out is alarming — it is their place to “improvise election rules” because they have the power to do so and thousands of votes are at risk.
The SCOTUS decision, which was made along party lines with the three liberal justices dissenting, supports Trump’s recent false claims about mail voting being untrustworthy: “Last-minute changes to long-standing election rules risk other problems too, inviting confusion and chaos and eroding public confidence in electoral outcomes,” Gorsuch wrote.
As it has been emphasized countless times by countless sources, fraud is extremely rare in mail-in voting, with a rate of less than 0.0009%, according to a 2017 Brennan Center for Justice study. What invites confusion, chaos and erosion to public confidence is untrue rhetoric that attempts to discredit a secure method of voting.
Further, if ballots received after Election Day are deemed invalid, chaotic and confusing in Wisconsin, what sort of message does that send about ballots that must be counted after Nov. 3 in many other states?
Trump’s efforts to falsify peoples’ perceptions of mail-in voting likely stem in part from a plan to declare premature victory. Election results will be delayed because “a record number of voters” are expected to vote by mail and some states, including key battleground states, cannot start counting ballots until after polls close, Bob Ortega and Scott Bronstein of CNN reported. They wrote that “several election analysts said they worry about Trump's efforts to cast doubt on the outcome if counting the votes takes days or even weeks to resolve.”
The SCOTUS ruling on Wisconsin’s deadline for mail-in ballots, a “last-minute” decision within itself, only adds to the creation of unwarranted distrust in the Nov. 3 election.
“The Court has failed to adequately protect the Nation’s voters,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her dissenting opinion. “Tens of thousands of Wisconsinites, through no fault of their own, may receive their mail ballots too late to return them by Election Day. Without the district court’s order, they must opt between ‘brav[ing] the polls,’ with all the risk that entails, and ‘los[ing] their right to vote.’ … The voters of Wisconsin deserve a better choice.”
Haley is a senior studying Journalism and French. To keep up with voting information in Wisconsin, please check https://myvote.wi.gov/en-US/MyVoterInfo. Do you think the SCOTUS refusal to extend the deadline for mailed ballots suppresses voters? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org