The era of free and fair elections in America ended today, probably permanently, as Martin Longman discusses. Wisconsin's absentee ballot extension deadline due to COVID-19 was annulled by the US Supreme Court yesterday, and today's Wisconsin primary turnout will be in the single digits, all but guaranteeing a Republican sweep of local and state races.
It seems inevitable that Milwaukee will have an immensely reduced turnout, which is tantamount to handing the Republicans victory in every statewide contested election on the ballot. But it gets worse.
Once the Democrats understood that the election would go forward, they went to court to try to make sure that absentee ballots could serve as an alternative, and they convinced an Obama-appointed federal judge to extend the deadline for submitting an absentee ballot from 8pm April 7 to 4pm on April 13. The judge reasoned that this was reasonable because the state had received 1.2 million ballot requests and was struggling to get them mailed out in time for voters to receive them.
But the Republicans appealed this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. On Monday, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 along completely partisan lines to rescind the lower court’s decision and uphold the 8pm April 7 deadline for receiving an absentee ballot.
Predictably, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg was incensed:
As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg notes in her dissent, “the presidential primaries, a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, three seats on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, over 100 other judgeships, over 500 school board seats, and several thousand other positions” are at stake in the Wisconsin election…
…Again, many voters are not expected to receive their ballots until after this April 7 deadline. As Justice Ginsburg notes, “as of Sunday morning, 12,000 ballots reportedly had not yet been mailed out…”
Now, the most egregious thing here is that the Republicans are defying their governor and putting people’s lives at risk. But it’s almost equally offensive that they’re using this crisis to guarantee themselves a slew of easy victories in what are actually competitive elections. And this is all possible because Republican-controlled legislatures and courts are willing to go to any length to help their party electorally, even if it destroys the bench’s reputation for impartiality, and even if it annihilates any respect for the outcome of elections. How can anyone argue that you can have a fair election when Milwaukee can only produce five polling locations rather than the 180 that are needed? How can they say they’re not disenfranchising people when folks have to choose between possible death if they go out in public to vote or not voting at all because they didn’t receive an absentee ballot in time to mail it in by Tuesday night’s deadline?
Expect this nightmare to be repeated in every state that doesn't have universal mail-in ballots.
Imagine in November with COVID-19 still raging across the country that 75% of polling locations are closed on Election Day, that turnout is in the low teens or high single digits, and Republicans easily win every remotely competitive House and Senate race, as well as giving Trump a huge electoral college win.
Imagine what Republicans would do with a 5-4 SCOTUS majority, the House, and 60+ Senate seats, and Trump leading the way, still using "emergency powers" because of the pandemic.
It would be a catastrophe.
We're headed there right now.