hearts and minds

April 4, 2020

The Ultimate Form of Voter Suppression during a Pandemic

Filed under: Class warfare,Politics & elections,Race relations,Wisconsin legislature — Hearts & Minds @ 3:04 am

Insisting on conducting a 19th century style, in-person, one-day election in the face of a mushrooming international pandemic is another serious failure of the dysfunctional, divisive partisan bifurcation of governance in the USA. The utter failure of “our” Wisconsin state government elected officials to: (a) protect the election, (b) protect and facilitate the right of all citizens to vote, and (c) protect the lives and the health of the people, is crystal clear. The governor and the legislature in Wisconsin left the people holding the bag … and paying the piper. In this emergency, the legislature failed to legislate and the governor failed to lead, when that is precisely what was needed … and the mass media papered it over. The initiative that was needed was left to grassroots non-partisan community organizations, which did try to intervene.  That’s where our real leaders are. Thank you for trying.

The public health damage – including loss of life – together with the voter suppression caused by this failure will almost certainly hit the inner city harder than the surrounding white suburbs. There is way lower population and housing density in the white suburbs; far less congestion – no waiting in line to register or to vote or to get qualifying papers – in the white suburbs; far fewer voters, percentage-wise, in the affluent suburbs who need to re-register to vote, due to changed employment and residence, etc.; far easier, immediate access to absentee voting, early voting, and in-person voting in the white suburbs. There is an extremely significant component of willfully blind white privilege and deadly white racism lurking in this adamant insistence (and passive acceptance) that in-person voting be conducted during a growing pandemic public health emergency, which threatens people who are packed in the city precincts far more. Threatening people’s lives, and even killing us, is the ultimate voter suppression tactic, just as it is the bottom-line tactic employed by fascists to silence dissent, to deny human and labor rights, and to lock-up and lock-out immigrants and refugees. Right here in River City, folks – right here in genteel, bucolic, allegedly “post-racial”, 21st century Wisconsin.

The everyday people quietly and courageously working on the front lines; the people, understanding what’s at stake, caring for one another and for our common interest, pulling together to lick this pandemic, recognize the difference between exercising versus dodging responsible leadership. The governor said that he couldn’t legally cancel the in-person voting, but must have legislators cooperation in order to do that. He even reportedly asserted that he wanted the election to go ahead as scheduled. Legislative leaders dared the governor, calling him a coward for not going out on a limb by trying to postpone the April 7 election by his action alone, while asserting that they themselves saw no need to change in any way the April 7 election to cope with the public health emergency. But that finger-pointing, name-calling, game-playing bad behavior leaves the people holding the bag – and the ultimate responsibility to correct this sorry state of affairs. The judge in western Wisconsin federal district court ruled that he (the judge) doesn’t have the authority to postpone the election, but that the governor and the legislature together have that authority and should certainly use it before it’s too late. (disclosure: I think the judge is right.)

Perhaps the governor finally saw the light (as of Friday afternoon, with Tuesday the election day). My first impression was that Evers’ call for a special legislative session Saturday looked like ‘too little, too late’. If one’s responsibility is to protect democracy and also to protect the lives of the people, ‘too little, too late’ is inexcusable. On second thought, however, Evers’ timing just might have been the wisest possible moment to have any chance to achieve cooperation and a safe, fair, prompt election, given the chronically dysfunctional two-party death-grip on democracy and government.  What d’you think?

Allowing time for the state to print and distribute mail-in ballots to every citizen eligible to vote would enable every potential voter and poll worker to register, vote by mail, and work safely and in conformity with emergency regulations and public health guidelines. And a properly conducted election could be quickly concluded within two months at most, with the results carefully counted and announced by a predetermined date. The alternative – delaying an election until the pandemic threat is over – would delay the election indefinitely.  And who decides when or even if that time has come? But postponing the vote count in order to allow all citizens to safely, securely, and effectively participate in the election (nowduring the pandemic, not after it is over) by mail-in/mail-back ballot with extended registration, is a rational, fair, and caring way to (a) proceed expeditiously with the election, (b) truly facilitate every citizen’s right to vote (not just pretend and pay lip service to that right), and (c) secure democracy and safeguard the health and the well-being of the people. Our elected legislators met Saturday, but immediately adjourned, disdaining to even discuss considering whether or not, and how to hold the in-person 2020 spring election at this most critical moment during the growing, unprecedented, dangerous pandemic.

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