As the hourly news headlines changed on Monday in Wisconsin regarding the April Election there were all sorts of emotional responses from those who felt vindicated and from those who felt undermined. The COVID-19 pandemic has set all sorts of feelings loose in the land, and adding a thick layer of partisanship to the mix, only intensified all the remarks which made social media even more tricky to navigate.
While the statewide news is most intriguing I have been absorbed over the weekend with Sidney Blumenthal’s first volume about Abraham Lincon. A Self-Made Man is many hundreds of pages, and three books away from 1864, but in the face of the current fracas about how to hold our state’s election, or even if one should be held as scheduled, makes me aware of the mood that existed at the time of Lincoln seeking a second term. History, however, proves that election was a supreme example of the resilience of the democratic process. Like then, we too are experiencing our example of uncertainty and chaos. After the ballots are counted Tuesday night I trust reflective citizens will see the wisdom of holding the election.
The drama on Monday started with Governor Tony Evers signing an executive order suspending in-person voting for the state’s spring election. Within hours the Wisconsin Supreme Court, by a 4-2 vote, overturned the election’s delay, allowing balloting to take place Tuesday.
Within a short time of that ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court amended a lower federal court ruling that allowed absentee ballots to be received by next Monday in order to count, clarifying that they need to be postmarked by Tuesday (April 7th) or dropped off in person by the time polls close in Wisconsin.
I agree with both of these rulings as the process of our elections must not be manipulated. An attempt was made to turn a pandemic into a partisan fight over casting ballots. With such a scenario there was only one acceptable outcome, and that was to allow for the established election process to continue. That is what happened Monday, and for that democracy scored two victories. Elections are not to be toyed with, and when an attempt is made it needs to be squashed. I am much aware of the chicanery that is often at play in elections, and how in this case I am siding with Republicans. But we must be consistent in calling for a fair process regarding balloting, or none of what we say matters.
I have taken a consistent view that this election needed to be held on Tuesday. While advocating for voters to cast absentee ballots I rejected the notion of postponing the vote. In these times it is most important to have some norms continue, especially ones that strike to the foundations of our democracy. It is important citizens know they have a stake in our future, and a say in our governing process, especially when things seem most dire.
Over the past week, I have become very aware, as the sun lifts higher in the sky and warmer temperatures take hold, that even with knowledge about the virus there are many folks out and about. At the same time, dire warnings abound about what will happen if people are asked to venture to a polling place to cast a ballot, in a very safeguarded manner. The walkers, bikers, hikers at state parks, and shoppers to stores are testimony to the fact people do go out and take risks for all sorts of reasons, but we are to believe that the risk of voting is too high?
This weekend WISC News reported a story showing a full parking lot at a Woodman’s grocery store, to underscore that people are not staying home. And not self-distancing. That story can be viewed at 8 minutes into the show. (To be clear, I am a strong advocate of following government and medical guidelines to curtail the spread of this virus. James and I have been self-distancing at our home for over a month. We both voted absentee with the time lapse between picking the mail up, voting and placing the ballot back in the box to be 20 minutes.) What concerns me is the lack of all-out civic acknowledgment an election is sacred, not to be dismissed even when chaos abounds. That some of my fellow citizens have no problem with a need to buy cookies and beer but shrink back from casting a ballot, with polling safeguards, makes me wonder where we are headed as a state and nation.
I am not being cavalier with the health and safety of any voter in this state. Rather it is the larger point about our state (and republic) I want to press forward. Let me take you back to 1864 and words from President Lincoln. Do not dismiss the significance of that election underscoring the firm foundation of this nation.
In November 1864 Lincoln said, “We cannot have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us.”
Change rebellion to COVID-19 and a national election to our state contests and the point is most clear. Our Spring Election must be one of those avenues when we send a concerted message about unity and purpose, and it can be done with the safeguards at polling places. As I have stated before, given the crisis at hand, I frankly do not care which person or issue wins at the polls. I sincerely want to see, when it comes to the core values in our state, we all agree civic duty is very much alive!
And conquered the damn virus!
Now go vote!