The Wisconsin GOP Is a Death Cult

Wisconsin Republicans show they hate democracy and Wisconsinites.

Emma Roller April 7, 2020

An election observer cleans voting booths during a Democratic presidential primary election at the Kenosha Bible Church gym in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on April 7, 2020. (Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI / AFP) (Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

On Mon­day, after a bill to delay Wisconsin’s pri­ma­ry lan­guished in the state leg­is­la­ture, Demo­c­ra­t­ic Gov­er­nor Tony Evers signed an exec­u­tive order to post­pone the state’s pri­ma­ry until June, in light of the COVID-19 out­break that has already sick­ened at least 2,440 Wis­con­sin res­i­dents and killed 83 peo­ple in the state.

It’s not a question of whether Wisconsin voters will get sick as a direct result of Tuesday’s vote, but how many.

But mere hours lat­er, the Wis­con­sin Supreme Court ruled 4 – 2 that the elec­tion must go on as planned. (Dan Kel­ly, the con­ser­v­a­tive Supreme Court judge up for re-elec­tion on Tues­day, abstained from the rul­ing.) Worse, the court ruled that absen­tee bal­lots must be post­marked or hand-deliv­ered to one of the five absen­tee bal­lot drop-off loca­tions by Tues­day, over­rid­ing a fed­er­al judge’s order to extend absen­tee vot­ing. As of Tues­day morn­ing, the Wis­con­sin Elec­tions Com­mis­sion report­ed receiv­ing just 67% of the absen­tee bal­lots requested.

The state legislature’s GOP lead­ers, Rep. Robin Vos and Sen. Scott Fitzger­ald, issued a joint state­ment on Mon­day night prais­ing the court’s deci­sion. The state’s high­est court has spo­ken: the gov­er­nor can’t uni­lat­er­al­ly move the date of the elec­tion,” it read.

Even if Wis­con­sin was pre­pared with the nec­es­sary per­son­al pro­tec­tive equip­ment (PPE), hold­ing a statewide elec­tion in the midst of a pan­dem­ic would pose a giant risk. But as in many oth­er states, Wis­con­sin is deal­ing with a severe PPE short­age. As a result, peo­ple who work out­side their homes — from home health aides, to con­struc­tion work­ers, to gro­cery store cashiers — risk expo­sure to the virus. Throw­ing thou­sands of vot­ers across the state into that risk pool will not help. It’s not a ques­tion of whether Wis­con­sin vot­ers will get sick as a direct result of Tuesday’s vote, but how many.

Before Evers issued his exec­u­tive order, Repub­li­can state law­mak­ers had refused to resched­ule the elec­tion. Thou­sands of poll work­ers stepped down to pro­tect them­selves from expo­sure, and Mil­wau­kee — the most pop­u­lous city in the state — has only five polling loca­tions open on Tues­day, down from 180 polling loca­tions around the city. A video from Tues­day morn­ing showed a line of Mil­wau­kee vot­ers snaking around a polling place, then into a park­ing lot, then around the block in an attempt to main­tain social distancing.

Poll work­ers across the state are fac­ing an impos­si­ble choice: help oth­er Wis­con­sinites vote, and put them­selves and their com­mu­ni­ty at risk in the process, or stay home. I’m a poll work­er in Mil­wau­kee. I’ve been wrestling with what we’re being asked to do tomor­row,” Philip Roc­co, an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of polit­i­cal sci­ence at Mar­quette Uni­ver­si­ty, tweet­ed Mon­day night. We’re being asked to put our neigh­bors at risk. We’re being asked to be infra­struc­ture for an ille­git­i­mate elec­tion. I refuse to participate.”

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the state court’s rul­ing Mon­day night, with a major­i­ty opin­ion that seemed embar­rassed by its own faux naïveté: The Court’s deci­sion on the nar­row ques­tion before the Court should not be viewed as express­ing an opin­ion on the broad­er ques­tion of whether to hold an elec­tion, or whether oth­er reforms or mod­i­fi­ca­tions in elec­tion pro­ce­dures in light of COVID-19 are appro­pri­ate. That point can­not be stressed enough.” This rais­es a few ques­tions, name­ly: What makes Wis­con­sin so spe­cial that it must con­tin­ue its elec­tion as planned, while 15 states have already post­poned their pri­maries? What is the imper­a­tive here, out­side of giv­ing Repub­li­cans a boost via mas­sive vot­er disenfranchisement?

Vos and Fitzger­ald are faces of the mod­ern Repub­li­can Par­ty. They don’t prac­tice gov­er­nance through shows of brute force — not yet, at least — but through the under­hand­ed pow­er plays that have come to define my home state for the past decade. They both played an inte­gral role in the union-bust­ing leg­is­la­tion rammed through by Gov­er­nor Scott Walk­er in 2011, and they have fought rabid­ly to enforce the state’s sup­pres­sive vot­er ID laws. And after Wis­con­sinites kicked Walk­er out of office in 2018, Repub­li­can law­mak­ers called a lame-duck ses­sion with the explic­it goal of strip­ping Evers of the exec­u­tive pow­ers Walk­er was allowed to exercise.

Vos has made his pri­or­i­ties as a pub­lic fig­ure abun­dant­ly clear. If you took Madi­son and Mil­wau­kee out of the state elec­tion for­mu­la, we would have a clear major­i­ty,” Vos said after the 2018 midterm elec­tions. To Vos and his allies, any elec­tion results that come out of the state’s two biggest cities are inher­ent­ly ille­git­i­mate because they are Demo­c­ra­t­ic. It is the same sick tau­tol­ogy that props up cries of fake news!” Incon­ve­nient data isn’t a bur­den if you decide it’s not real.

It’s no coin­ci­dence that Mil­wau­kee, the most pop­u­lous and diverse city in the state, will bear the brunt of Tuesday’s elec­toral mal­prac­tice. COVID-19 is already hit­ting black Wis­con­sinites dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly hard. Black res­i­dents make up 28 per­cent of Mil­wau­kee Coun­ty, yet as of Mon­day, 33 of the 45 coun­ty res­i­dents who died of COVID-19 — 73 per­cent—were black. This is the mon­strous end­point of the decades-long cam­paign of hyper-seg­re­ga­tion, aus­ter­i­ty and dis­en­fran­chise­ment that has pushed black Mil­wau­keeans to their break­ing point.

Repub­li­cans — not just in the White House, but in state­hous­es across the coun­try — are active­ly work­ing to make their states less safe for their hard­est-hit res­i­dents. Peo­ple are being forced to leave their homes and go work — lit­er­al­ly putting their lives at risk — because their undu­ly elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives would see them die before paus­ing the smooth flow of cap­i­tal upstream.

Repub­li­cans aren’t the only lead­ers show­ing extreme neg­li­gence in the face of this pan­dem­ic. Last week, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee announced it would post­pone its nation­al con­ven­tion in Mil­wau­kee until August. For­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden sug­gest­ed host­ing a vir­tu­al con­ven­tion, while DNC Chair Tom Perez told the New York Times that he doesn’t sup­port the idea of a vir­tu­al con­ven­tion because it would attract less media attention.

In an inter­view with ABC News on Sun­day, Biden argued there’s no rea­son to alter the course of the elec­tion because of this pan­dem­ic. We’ve nev­er allowed any cri­sis from a Civ­il War straight through to a pan­dem­ic in 17, all the way around, in 16, we have nev­er, nev­er let our democ­ra­cy take sec­ond fid­dle, we can both have a democ­ra­cy and elec­tions and at the same time pro­tect the pub­lic health,” the Demo­c­ra­t­ic fron­trun­ner said.

Elec­tion admin­is­tra­tors are already dras­ti­cal­ly under-resourced. By putting this fur­ther strain on them, con­ser­v­a­tives in the state leg­is­la­ture and on the state supreme court are essen­tial­ly demand­ing elec­tions offi­cials pre­tend an ille­git­i­mate elec­tion is legit­i­mate. As things stand now, the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Novem­ber could very well look like one Wis­con­sin mul­ti­plied by 50.

To Vos, Fitzger­ald and politi­cians like them, Tuesday’s farce is a win-win. That’s because their goal isn’t fight­ing this virus, but erod­ing democ­ra­cy to the point of extinc­tion so they can cling to pow­er. The virus is a help­ful ally to sow­ing con­fu­sion and chaos, and ensur­ing that peo­ple are already too stressed and ter­ri­fied to do any­thing when they set the build­ing on fire.

So, what have we learned in all this? We’ve learned that Repub­li­cans are not above exploit­ing a glob­al health cri­sis to sup­press votes, and in fact wel­come the oppor­tu­ni­ty, no mat­ter how many lives they put at risk in the process. The idea of one per­son, one vote is dis­taste­ful to them because oth­er­wise, as the pres­i­dent him­self told Fox and Friends last month, you’d nev­er have a Repub­li­can elect­ed in this coun­try again.”

The actions of Vos, Fitzger­ald and politi­cians in Repub­li­can-con­trolled state­hous­es across the coun­try make that point abun­dant­ly clear. It’s all out in the open. They are show­ing you exact­ly who they are.

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