The Wisconsin Primary...In Case Anyone Noticed

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RoseMary Oliveira explains why she’s voting despite health risks

On Tuesday April 7th, the state of Wisconsin held their presidential primary.  Results are not available at this time.  While many states were postponing their primaries or runoffs in some states until later in the year, Wisconsin decided to go ahead with their’s.  There were fits and starts to be sure.

Initially, Governor Tony Evers attempted to delay the primary citing a “potential health risk.”  Eventually, the state supreme court intervened and ruled that the primary must go on as scheduled.  Democrats then took the issue to the federal courts where they found an Obama appointee favorable to their cause.  That judge ruled that an extension for mail-in ballots should be extended from 8:00 PM April 7th to 4:00 PM April 13th.

The Republican Party intervened and appealed to the United States Supreme Court on an emergency basis arguing that despite the coronavirus pandemic, Wisconsin must stick to the law which states that mail-ballots (absentee) be postmarked no later than 8:00 PM on April 7th.  The problem for Wisconsin is that, in the wake of a state-mandated effective lockdown order, the sheer number of mail-in ballots.  Normally, Wisconsin has about 250,000 of them in presidential primaries.  This year, they have five times that many.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court vacated the lower judge’s extension of the time and effectively said that any ballot not postmarked by 8:00 PM on April 7th was not to count.  In other words, the Wisconsin law was the law pandemic or no pandemic.  Most poll workers refused to work which prompted governor Evers to call out the National Guard to man polling stations.  Normally, Milwaukee- a city of about 602,000- would have 180 polling stations.  In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, they managed to open only five even with the National Guard.

The Court relied on a much-overlooked 2006 decision- Purcell vs. Gonzalez- which asserted that courts should be reluctant to hand down any order that impacts a state’s election procedures as one moves closer to an actual election.  In that decision- a per curiam one authored by Justice John Paul Stevens- they reasoned that such orders were likely to cause voter confusion.  Even a liberal website like Vox noted the wisdom of that decision.

The attacks on the decision by those on the Left are the usual lines- disenfranchisement.  They argue is that besides the presidential preference primary, many state level races were also on the ballot.  In her dissent from the opinion, Ginsburg noted that at least 12,000 ballots had yet to be mailed out as of Sunday evening on the 5th.  Extrapolating, she reasoned that the number of people “disenfranchised” was likely to be “vast.”

We can take this decision one of two ways.  The first is that the decision by the lower court by Judge Conly was a rather nice compromise.  Given the unusual circumstances in 2020 amidst the panic of a global pandemic, extending the deadline for the receipt of mail-in absentee ballots to 4:00 PM on April 13th seemed reasonable, especially given the extent of last-minute requests.

However, that “excuse” is hogwash.  On March 12, governor Evers declared a public state of emergency as the coronavirus started to show up in Wisconsin.  The following day, he ordered all schools closed by March 18th.  Hence, since March 12th to April 3rd- three weeks- Wisconsin could have dealt with this problem, but it was not until the week before the primary that this suddenly became a “problem.”  Where were Evers and the Democrats on March 12th?  Were they oblivious to other states postponing primaries?

The other way to take this is summarized in one expression: Supreme Court precedent is a bitch.  Judge Conly’s decision to extend the deadline for receiving mail-in absentee ballots may have been a “nice” compromise, but it also had to overcome the Purcell decision and it failed.  Simply, there would have been confusion upon confusion upon confusion.  What would stop some allegedly disenfranchised group from, at the last minute, feigning ignorance of the extension?  Were the people of Wisconsin to then expect yet another extension?

Since at least March 12th, the people of Wisconsin knew about how coronavirus was impacting their state.  The failure of voters to request, receive, and mail in absentee ballots may be more attributable to either the lack of foresight or the abject stupidity of a segment of the Wisconsin electorate.  Unsurprisingly, most of the criticism is emanating from the more urban areas of the state, particularly Milwaukee.  For example, why did only 38% of voters in Milwaukee County return absentee ballots which is heavily Democrat versus more than 60% in neighboring, Republican Waukesha County?  Were the people of Milwaukee County tone-deaf to the warnings about coronavirus?  Did they not take it serious?  One would suspect that if your child was home on March 18th and places closed, that would signal enough time for a voter who really cared to get an absentee ballot, make their decision, and get it postmarked by the time dictated by law and stated on the ballot.

As concerns the presidential primary, it is a foregone conclusion that Joe Biden won in Wisconsin without any vote being counted.  The concern of the Democrats in Wisconsin is the local races and, I believe, a state supreme court race on the ballot.  Their claims of “disenfranchisement” ring hollow in the face of the stupidity or ignorance of the coalition upon which they rely for political power.

In this case, a combination of lack of foresight, stupidity, ignorance, and Supreme Court precedent came back to bite them in the ass.  For a party that relies sooooo much on Supreme Court precedence in other contexts, it also reveals their blatant hypocrisy.