An election that forces voters to choose between protecting their health and casting a ballot is not a free and fair election. In a pandemic, our federal government and the state legislature have the obligation to appropriate funds to pay election workers to replace volunteers, to create a safe environment for those workers, and to provide mail-in ballots to every registered voter without requiring that the voter take an extra step to request a ballot by mail.
From Historian Heather Cox Richardson:
Wisconsin’s election was originally scheduled for [today], but the pandemic has gummed up the works. A stay-at-home order went into effect in the state on March 25, and more than a million voters have requested absentee ballots. But this huge surge means the state is running behind and hasn’t been able to deliver the ballots. Meanwhile, roughly 7000 poll workers, who are volunteers and often elderly, have said they would not come to manage the election, so a large number of polls can’t open. The city of Milwaukee, whose 600,000 people normally would have 180 polling places, will have five. Milwaukee tends to vote Democratic.
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, tried to get the Republican-dominated legislature to postpone the election or to mail ballots to all voters for a May 26 election deadline, but it refused. Over the weekend, the mayors of Wisconsin’s ten biggest cities urged the state’s top health official, Andrea Palm, to “step up” and use her emergency powers to replace in-person voting with mail-in voting, as Ohio did when faced with a similar problem. On Monday, Evers signed an executive order postponing the election until June 9—something even he was unsure he had the power to do, but he said he felt he had to try to keep people safe– but Republicans challenged the order and the Republican-dominated state Supreme Court blocked it.
Last Thursday, a federal judge permitted absentee ballots to be counted in the election so long as they arrived back to election officials by April 13, but Republicans immediately challenged the decision. Tonight, in a 5-4 decision, the US. Supreme Court refused to permit this extension of time for the state to receive absentee ballots, arguing (apparently without any self-awareness) that the federal judge made a mistake by changing the rules of an election so close to its date. This means that absentee ballots have to be postmarked tomorrow, even if the voter hasn’t gotten one by then.
The court insisted that the issue in the decision was quite narrow, and had nothing to do with the larger question of the right to vote. The four dissenting justices cried foul.
Writing for the four other judges in dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote that “the court’s order, I fear, will result in massive disenfranchisement.” “The majority of this Court declares that this case presents a “narrow, technical question”…. That is wrong. The question here is whether tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens can vote safely in the midst of a pandemic. Under the District Court’s order, they would be able to do so. Even if they receive their absentee ballot in the days immediately following election day, they could return it. With the majority’s stay in place, that will not be possible. Either they will have to brave the polls, endangering their own and others’ safety, or they will lose their right to vote, through no fault of their own. That is a matter of utmost importance—to the constitutional rights of Wisconsin’s citizens, the integrity of the State’s election process, and in this most extraordinary time, the health of the Nation.”
The New York Times editorial board echoed Ginsburg, warning that what is happening in Wisconsin, where Republicans are trying to use the pandemic to steal an election, could happen nationally in 2020. This is why Democrats tried to get robust election funding in the $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill to bolster mail-in ballots, and why Trump said: “The things they had in there were crazy, they had things, levels of voting that if you ever agreed to, you would never have another Republican elected in this country again.”https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/april-6-2020?utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=email&utm_source=copy (Emphasis added.)
More Congressional action will be required to deal with the effects of the pandemic, including economic relief. Preservation of our democracy — through protecting the right to vote — must be as high a priority as economic relief. Congress must appropriate funds to states to allow them to conduct all-mail elections this year — to the extent feasible — and to pay election workers who work at those polling places which must remain open. The Arizona State Legislature must authorize the County Elections Officials to mail ballots to all registered voters — and appropriate money for that purpose.
Democracy depends upon it.