It became just a little harder to disprove the theory that Republicans only care about themselves and aren’t the least bit concerned whether you live or die after the decision made today by the Wisconsin state Supreme Court.
Democratic Governor Tony Evers issued an executive order this morning postponing the state’s primary election scheduled for tomorrow over concerns that it would be impossible to hold a fair election — or even properly open a sufficient number of polling places and staff them properly in the midst of the social distancing guidelines due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“I cannot in good conscience allow any types of gathering that would further the spread of this disease and to put more lives at risk,” Evers told the press after he signed the order. “I have been advised by public health experts at the Department of Health Services that despite the heroic efforts and good work of our local election officials, poll workers, and national guard troops, there is not a sufficiently safe way to administer in-person voting tomorrow.”
After Evers’ sensible decision, Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled state legislature filed a motion with the court to issue an emergency restraining order reversing Evers’ potentially life-saving decree.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court — with at least two conservative justices appointed by Governor Evers’ right-wing predecessor Scott Walker still sitting on the bench — granted that restraining order this afternoon, forcing the state to hold a primary under the most dangerous conditions imaginable and taking GOP voter suppression tactics to a new low.
“The governor does not have constitutional or statutory authority to modify, suspend or otherwise alter the statutes. Nor does the governor have the constitutional or statutory authority to set the time, place and manner of elections,” Wisconsin Republican legislators wrote in their quickly-filed petition.
The ruling to overturn the Democratic governor’s life-saving emergency order may eventually backfire on the GOP legislators — particularly if anyone passionate enough about exercising their voting rights contracts the COVID-19 virus as a result of the Republicans’ venal political games — but the short-term effect will likely be a massively lower turnout in the only state primary scheduled for April that has not been postponed.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s ruling endangers not only the people who may decide to risk their safety and cast their ballots but, because of a lack of poll workers — 7,000 of whom have declined to work during the pandemic — National Guard members in the state will be called up to staff the election.
Ironically, because of the lack of staff, the number of polling places will be severely reduced meaning that those that do open will be more crowded — and dangerous for everyone who should be social distancing to avoid infection — and more difficult to reach.
With a bevy of local races for offices whose current occupants’ terms expire this month at stake — in addition to the presidential candidate preferences — postponing the elections was never an easy choice for Governor Evers to make. The state Supreme Court’s ruling is all the more controversial because a seat for that body is also up for grabs in tomorrow’s election, creating a powerful conflict of interest for the court in this matter.
As a Democratic governor with a Republican-controlled legislature that has done everything it can to strip him of powers that his predecessor was able to exercise easily, Evers had to make a difficult choice after his last-minute appeal to the legislature — which has the sole power to move the primary according to the state constitution — to convene in an emergency session today to vote to move the election was ignored without any action whatsoever from the GOP to try to protect both its citizens and their right to vote in a less than potentially deadly environment.
Evers has called on the legislature to meet again tomorrow to enact a measure postponing the ballot, but, as of now, it looks like the Wisconsin primary will be moving forward tomorrow, come rain or shiny new disease.
Hopefully, when the general election comes in November, Wisconsin voters will remember which party was concerned with their health and well-being and which was willing to let them risk infection and possibly even death as the price for exercising their constitutional rights.
Original reporting by The Associated Press.
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Vinnie Longobardo is the Managing Editor of Occupy Democrats. He's a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music, and art.