It is difficult to call what is occurring in Wisconsin today a democratic election.
In a 5-4 decision last night, the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority unleashed a wave of confusion and effectively silenced countless Wisconsin voters by ordering that all mail ballots be postmarked by today--even though thousands of voters are still waiting to receive their mail ballots. Despite dangerous health conditions and hundreds of poll closures, the Wisconsin Supreme Court also ruled on ideological lines, 4-2, that the governor lacked the power to postpone in-person voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement, Governor Tony Evers declared that Wisconsin residents will have to “wake up and choose between exercising their right to vote and staying healthy and safe.” He’s right. Both the Wisconsin legislature and the courts refused to perform their most basic duties--to protect Wisconsin communities and their fundamental rights.
We’re hours from polls closing, and the state still has not sent out ballots to some 9,000 voters who requested them on time. Over 400,000 mail ballots had not been returned as of Monday -- fully one-third of the total requested -- and we have no way of knowing how many of those never reached voters.
In Milwaukee--where 60% of the state’s Black voters live--there are only five open polling stations, down from 180. Long lines are snaking around blocks and through parks, and wait times are already reaching three hours, putting vulnerable community members at risk of exposure to COVID-19 and severely burdening the right to vote. COVID-19 is already disproportionately killing Black and brown people. Wisconsin’s failure to protect their voting rights is compounding the injury to communities of color.
As the pandemic continues, we will see further voter suppression across the country. Today is a preview of what will come in November if states do not put in place the structures needed to make the election free, fair, accessible, and equitable. That means more accessible voter registration, including through online portals. It means vote-by-mail rules that do not have burdensome witness-signature requirements and unrealistic deadlines. And it means safe and responsible options to vote in person. Exclusive vote-by-mail would disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color due to issues with mail delivery and technical issues with mail ballots. We need more early voting and more polling places to spread out voting, and we need to redouble our efforts to recruit and protect poll workers.
Now and always, Demos remains committed to fighting voter suppression and working with our community partners to remove barriers to participation that too often disproportionately impact people of color. We will continue to take our government to court when people’s voting rights have been infringed or threatened, and we will work to end disenfranchisement at every turn.
Demos is a dynamic think-and-do tank that powers the movement for a just, inclusive, multiracial democracy. Through cutting-edge policy research, inspiring litigation, and deep relationships with grassroots organizations, Demos champions solutions that will create a democracy and economy rooted in racial equity.