Editorial: We must save our democracy from the COVID-19 pandemic

Tribune Content Agency

We must not only save our nation’s residents from the pandemic, we must also save our democracy from it.

The Wisconsin primary debacle on Tuesday highlights just how far the Republican Party is willing to go to disenfranchise voters in the middle of a health emergency – and that the highly partisan U.S. Supreme Court majority is willing to enable the despicable behavior.

Let this serve as a warning of the danger ahead in the November election. It’s highly likely that the threat of the coronavirus will not be over by then. Yet, 16 states don’t even offer balloting from home as an option for all voters – and congressional Republicans are opposing funding to help change that.

Then there are states like Wisconsin, where Republican lawmakers blocked efforts to delay the primary voting while the nation’s high court overturned reasonable deadlines accommodations for those voting from home who had not received their ballots in time.

As we said before, everyone eligible to cast a ballot should be able to do so by mail, especially in the middle of a pandemic. While we hope that the coronavirus will be a thing of the past by November, we shouldn’t count on it.

Moreover, we should be prepared for any emergency that might make turning out at the polls difficult or impossible. As Wisconsin demonstrates, we’re not. The warning signs of the threat of COVID-19 were ignored for far too long; we must not ignore the mounting dangers to our electoral process.

For decades, the GOP strategy has been to suppress voter turnout. Now President Donald Trump is talking openly about it as he continues his exaggerated claims about voter fraud. Last week, he complained about Democratic vote-by-mail proposals in Congress. “They had levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” he said.

It’s so cynical. The Republican political strategy seems to hinge on depressing turnout. The party carried that to an extreme in Wisconsin by insisted on holding the primary election despite a statewide order to stay at home to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Wisconsin was the only one of 12 states that conducted in-person primary voting in April. The state GOP there, which has sought to dilute the voting power of the state’s Democratic and African American voters in the urban centers, is battling to elect a conservative state Supreme Court justice to a 10-year term.

Republicans, who control the state Legislature, balked at postponing the election, as Democratic Gov. Tony Evers had sought. The result was the chaos the nation witnessed Tuesday that included long lines and limited polling locations for voting. There were only five Milwaukee locations to cast ballots.

The confusion was compounded by delays in fulfilling unprecedented numbers of requests for absentee ballots, resulting in tens of thousands of voters not receiving them in time. Consequently, a federal judge ordered the deadline for returning those ballots delayed, but the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday blocked that.

By a 5-4 vote, with the high court split along ideological lines, the majority ruled that the postmark deadline for returning the ballots would remain Tuesday.

“The Court’s order, I fear, will result in massive disenfranchisement,” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the minority. “A voter cannot deliver for postmarking a ballot she has not received. Yet tens of thousands of voters who timely requested ballots are unlikely to receive them by April 7, the Court’s postmark deadline.”

It’s a foreshadowing of the chaos to come in November if voters across the nation don’t insist on a fair system. For lawmakers, this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Unfortunately, thanks to the GOP, it is.


©2020 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

Visit The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) at www.mercurynews.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.