COVID-19 has highlighted many problems in global governmental systems ever since its initial outbreak in late 2019. However, after reading the New York Times Article “Supreme Court Blocks Extended Voting in Wisconsin” by Adam Liptak, a new form of issues can be found. Not the gap in health care accessibility or the American public’s ability to cooperate with a stay at home order, but rather the continued corruption of American governmental systems, in this particular case with the Supreme Court and its’ party-biased rulings on voting laws, that negatively affects the voting rights of Americans.
This article specifically highlights a rather blatant issue that arose in the Wisconsin primaries. Wisconsin issued a stay at home order because of COVID-19 on March 24, 2020 which was to remain in place until April 24, 2020, however, their primaries were scheduled to be held on April 7th. Although voting was included in the list of activities one was allowed to leave home for, many people did not want to risk their health during this unprecedented pandemic and decided to order absentee ballots instead. However, there was such a surge of absentee ballot requests that hardly anyone was able to receive their ballot by the 7th, let alone be able to send it in for processing. The solution, lawmakers assumed, seemed to be a simple one, extend the deadline until April 13th in order to allow voters more time to get their vote in. However, other lawmakers deemed this wrong and even unconstitutional as there has never been an extension granted in the past.
Both sides make a valid point. The first side claims that the world is in a state of emergency that has not been seen in over a hundred years, and with the resources available (the internet and more effective mail service), the deadline should be extended so as to protect the health of voters while still allowing for their voices to be heard. The other side maintains a more staunch perspective that America has survived both of the World Wars, the Spanish Influenza, 9/11 and many other disruptive world changing events and did not offer voting extensions then, so why should they offer them now. If an extension is offered in this scenario who is to say people won’t try to gain extensions for all future scenarios in order to rally more votes. This is a predicament, but the supreme court ruled in favor of prohibiting the extension in accordance with the second group.
Although the concept of the topic is interesting to debate with many sides and many valid points, this situation takes a turn towards true democratic erosion when political parties get involved. The Wisconsin Democrats wanted an extension because there were enough Republican votes to ensure Donald Trump won the primary in their state, and they wanted to see if there were more people who had not yet voted that would change the tides. The Wisconsin Republicans did not want an extension for the same reason. They could not come to a decision about the extension in the state courts, so they sent it to the Supreme Court who ruled 5:4 in support of the Republicans’ side prohibiting the vote. Right now the current rate of Conservative-leaning to Liberal-leaning Supreme Court justices is 5:4, which leads to the theory that parties are interfering with voting rights on the judicial level. The four who wanted to allow an extension were Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, all of whom have traditionally Liberal ideologies, whereas Supreme Court Justices Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Alito, Roberts and Thomas have traditionally Conservative ideologies and all voted to oppose the extension.
As Huq and Ginsberg state in their essay “How to Lose a Constitutional Democracy,” the legislative branches have always utilized gerrymandering as a means of swaying and affecting voting rights as their own threat to democracy, but the judicial branch is, in theory, supposed to remain neutral and only debate whether or not a law is constitutional. However, the Supreme Court ruling on voting rights issues is not a new thing. In the 2018 hearing of Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, the Supreme Court ruled to allow Ohio to continue its voting purge laws, which greatly disenfranchise those who are not able to participate in all of the small elections. In the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court ruled to change a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act to allow certain states more leniency on changing voting laws. The one thing in common with each of these cases is the ruling of 5:4, in favor of a the majority party at the time. The irony is, the Supreme Court was designed by the founding fathers to remain neutral and uphold the constitution, yet by making these decisions in favor of their political biases, they are being unconstitutional.
The most crucial part of a democracy, according to Robert Dahl’s 1972 essay “Democratization and Public Opinion,” is free and fair elections. But elections cannot be free and fair if laws are constantly being changed to disenfranchise certain peoples. However, voting disenfranchisement has existed in America since its conception and will probably exist until its end, but it’s the unbiased sections of government that are supposed to protect the citizens constitutional right to vote, and when they start becoming biased and party-motivated, there are no more safeguards against deconsolidation. So, the ruling in Wisconsin is a highly debatable issue with many good points, but the truth is, the ruling should not have been decided based on one party’s benefits or another but rather based on what is best for the people in this time, since that’s the purpose of a democracy, to be for the people and by the people.