The novel coronavirus is now a significant concern within all fifty states. Critically, this public health crisis has struck during an election year, wrecking havoc near the middle of primary season as the Democratic contest finally narrowed down to only two candidates, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, who recently dropped out of the race. Before this recent announcement from Sanders, many states had already postponed their primaries due to concerns for citizens safety amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. One notable exception has been the state of Wisconsin, which held its elections for some state and local positions as well as the Democratic primary on April 7th as originally planned. This election, which crucially contained a close race for a 10-year position on the state supreme court, has gained national attention as a two-part standoff. In one arena, Wisconsin’s democratic governor, who issued an order postponing the elections, faced off against a Republican state legislature and a conservative state supreme court. In another field, the supreme court of the United States overturned two lower-court decisions postponing the election. These results have stoked rampant fears by liberals throughout the country about other upcoming elections in 2020.
This event is not the first time in recent years that Wisconsin has made national headlines for partisan maneuvering. After Democratic governor Tony Evers defeated the Republican incumbent, Scott Walker, in 2018, the Republican-controlled state legislature swiftly moved to remove power from the governorship. This transfer of authority, as well as the current aid of the ruling party’s judiciary, are eerily reminiscent of Nicolas Maduro’s recent authoritarian measures in Venezuela, stripping power from duly elected officials and relying on the courts for protection. Interference by the US supreme court, in a seemingly Venezuela-type fashion, has helped stoke fears concerning national electoral integrity and voter suppression come November among liberals, and even rekindled calls for Democratic expansion of the supreme court, itself a democratically murky proposition.
Leading up to April 7th, there were known concerns not just with voter suppression due to fears of the coronavirus, and an imperfect attempt at fulfilling a surge in absentee ballots, but also with the availability of polling stations generally as poll workers stayed home and the Wisconsin Army National Guard was needed to prepare stations. Throughout the 7th, the Washington Post reported that voting in urban areas was marked by scarce polling stations, long lines, and unpleasant weather. Further worrying Democrats, there appeared to be far fewer problems in rural, conservative areas, particularly as the coronavirus has not yet impacted them full force. Overall, the last minute confusion and consternation is sure to mar and delegitimize any victories, no matter the party.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to provide day-to-day changes and news coverage, it will be important to keep an eye on the fall, and any potential changes to November’s vote. Although the national Democratic party is attempting to push for absentee-ballot measures in relief packages, these measures face stark opposition from the Republican-controlled Senate and the president, who opposes absentee-voting simply because it “doesn’t work out well for Republicans”. The actions of authoritarian governments in recent years have already fueled democratic anxiety, and Wisconsin’s recently fumbled election is likely just the specter of future electoral questions and legitimacy concerns as the COVID-19 crisis continues.