The situation in Wisconsin is this: with an assist from conservative judges at the highest levels of government, local Republican leaders are forcing their state to participate in an Election Day that will exacerbate a pandemic. The consequences that this will lead to have been apparent for weeks. Citizens will have to choose between their health and their vote; tens of thousands will be disenfranchised; and, inevitably, people who go out to vote on Tuesday, and people who work the polls—including members of the National Guard, who have been deployed to make up for poll-worker shortfalls—will get sick. The election forecasters and polling gurus might consider crunching the numbers on the likelihood that people will die.

This unfolding electoral tragedy is the product of a standoff between the politicians who run the state government there. On one side is Tony Evers, the Democratic governor. On the other are the Republicans who control the state legislature—who have resisted every step Evers has attempted to take to address the crisis. On March 23rd, with four hundred and sixteen confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, Evers announced a stay-at-home order. The top Republicans in the state, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, denounced the move, saying that it had “created mass amounts of confusion.” On March 27th, with eight hundred and forty-two confirmed cases, Evers called for mailing every registered voter in Wisconsin a ballot so they could vote by mail. Vos rejected the suggestion, calling it “careless and reckless.” On April 1st, with a thousand five hundred and fifty confirmed cases, a federal judge warned that proceeding with the election could make the state’s outbreak worse, and Evers called on the state’s legislative leaders to postpone it, saying that, if he had the legal authority to do so, he would. Fitzgerald declared, “For Democrats to suggest now that their hands were somehow tied is pure cowardice.”

Last Friday, April 3rd, with a thousand nine hundred and sixteen confirmed cases, Evers demanded that the legislature meet for a special session to discuss the election. The legislature gavelled in and gavelled out during the weekend without taking any action. On Monday, with more than twenty-four hundred confirmed cases, Evers claimed broad emergency powers and, in the name of public health, ordered the election postponed. Vos and Fitzgerald called the order “another last-minute flip-flop” and ran to the state’s conservative Supreme Court, which overruled Evers hours later. The five conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court then stepped in to undo some of the relief the federal judge had earlier granted election administrators in the state. On Tuesday, voters in Wisconsin went to the polls.

For the past decade, members of the Republican Party in Wisconsin have gerrymandered the state’s electoral maps, foisted onerous voter-I.D. requirements onto citizens, and stripped government workers of their collective bargaining rights. The Party’s goal, as the writer Dan Kaufman, who has chronicled the state’s recent political history, puts it, has been “engineering its own dominance.” Even in this context, Vos and Fitzgerald’s recent decisions stand out for their nihilism. There was no reason Wisconsin had to vote on Tuesday. Republican leaders simply decided that it was in their interest for the election to proceed. No amount of posturing or cynical press-releasing should distract from that fact.

Still, it is easy to question why Evers waited so long to take the steps he eventually did. In the early days of the coronavirus crisis, Evers—a mild-mannered former state superintendent of schools—seemed intent on appearing above politics. Even as more than a dozen states moved to postpone elections in the face of the pandemic, Evers sought compromise. For weeks, he joined Republicans in encouraging as many Wisconsinites as possible to avail themselves of the state’s strong absentee-ballot laws, which allow any registered voter who wishes to vote absentee to do so, without having to provide a particular reason. In response, well over a million people did.

But, as the requests surged, the problems with such a course revealed themselves. City clerks, who administer the state’s elections, began to warn that they would not be able to properly process so many absentee ballots on Election Night. Due to the number of late absentee requests, many thousands of voters in the state would likely not even get their ballots in time to mail them back in. People without Internet connections, or who couldn’t navigate the absentee-ballot-request Web site, were having trouble requesting ballots, and the requirement that absentee-request envelopes be signed by a witness raised public-health concerns in a time of government-mandated social distancing. In Milwaukee, the state’s largest city, the election administrator told me that he was seeing absentee-ballot requests lagging in the city’s poorer neighborhoods, where many black and Hispanic residents live. The electorate in an absentee-heavy election looked as if it was going to skew whiter, and wealthier, than usual. Then the clerks started reporting a critical shortage of poll workers; the older people who tend to staff polling places had no interest in being exposed to hundreds or thousands of other people. Cities closed early-voting sites and began severely limiting the number of polling places that would be open on Election Day, further raising fears of disenfranchisement. It became impossible to say how many people were going to be shut out of the election.

On Monday, Evers admitted that he’d been trying to compromise with uncompromising foes. “At every turn, they have fought, even all the way to the Supreme Court, even the most basic and commonsense proposals to ensure a safe and fair election,” he said of Republicans during a press conference. “There’s no shame in changing course to keep people safe. And, quite frankly, to save lives. Our allegiance cannot be to party or ideology. It must be to the people of Wisconsin and their safety.” But Republicans were not swayed by Evers’s earlier rhetoric, and they were not swayed on Monday. A seat on the state Supreme Court will be decided on Tuesday—the same court whose conservative majority overruled Evers’s postponement order on Monday—as will thousands of races for local offices around the state. Many Democrats in Wisconsin are accusing Republicans of preferring their odds in a chaotic election as opposed to one delayed for the sake of public health. The state’s election commission has said it will take until April 13th to count all of the absentee ballots and announce the results.

The bigger picture here, though, is that resistance to safe elections is quickly becoming a national Republican position. In response to the coronavirus crisis, good-government groups such as the Brennan Center for Justice have begun to recommend that changes be implemented to election administration now, to safeguard the November, 2020, election. Among their recommendations are universal vote-by-mail options and expanded voter registration and early voting. In Congress, Democrats pushed for such reforms as part of the stimulus negotiations, and Senators Ron Wyden, of Oregon, and Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, have introduced legislation that would fund such measures. On Monday, Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, published an op-ed on Fox News’s Web site warning that such efforts would “undermine” democracy. Late last month, criticizing the same proposals, President Trump declared that “if you ever agreed to it you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Source: www.newyorker.com/feed/everything