Democrats and Republicans have been fighting over voting rights for years. Democratic officials keep trying to make it easier for people to vote — by expanding voting hours, reducing identification requirements and more — while many Republican officials have been trying to make it harder.
The coronavirus crisis is now taking that fight to another level.
The current chaos in Wisconsin has made that clear. Yesterday, the Democratic governor, Tony Evers, announced that he was postponing today’s primary — only to be overruled by the state Supreme Court, which is controlled by conservative justices. Shortly after, the United States Supreme Court ruled against an expansion of absentee voting that Wisconsin Democrats also favored.
Wisconsin is now poised to be the only state that has held an election since the coronavirus crisis escalated, defying the advice of public health experts. Turnout will likely plummet. In Milwaukee, only five of the usual 180 polling places are expected to be open. And some people who do vote — or who work at polling places — could contract the virus. Ben Wikler, the chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, said the Supreme Court’s ruling would “consign an unknown number of Wisconsinites to their deaths.”
What’s going on here? Many Republicans believe they benefit from low turnout and are willing to hold an election in the midst of a pandemic. And today’s election isn’t just a primary. It also includes an important race, between a conservative candidate and a progressive one, for the state Supreme Court — the same court that issued yesterday’s ruling.
This story will soon expand beyond Wisconsin. Because the virus may still be a problem in November, congressional Democrats have been pushing for federal funding that would help states pay for a transition to voting by mail and early voting. Congressional Republicans and President Trump have been resisting those efforts.
Trump made the Republicans’ fears explicit in a recent Fox News interview. “The things they had in there were crazy,” he said, referring to one of the Democratic proposals. “They had levels of voting, that if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”