Wisconsin Voters As Collateral Damage

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In mid-March, Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine ordered a delay of the state’s presidential primary. He issued a joint statement with Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose:

“The only thing more important than a free and fair election is the health and safety of Ohioans. . . Logistically, under these extraordinary circumstances, it simply isn’t possible to hold an election tomorrow that will be considered legitimate by Ohioans.”  

Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine listened to the Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton (right) and attempted to delay Ohio’s primary in the interest of public health. When a court rebuffed DeWine, Dr. Acton declared a health emergency that kept the polls closed. (cantonrep.com)

Contrast that with the behavior of Wisconsin’s Republican leadership: On April 7, 2020 our state’s citizens officially become collateral damage in the GOP’s politics as war. Anyone who wants to understand the consequences of blind hyperpartisanship and political hackery need look no further than what is happening in Wisconsin today. So as to cement a state Supreme Court majority, party leaders are willing to minimize public health warnings, place voters’ and poll workers’ lives at risk, and disenfranchise thousands of citizens who will not be able to get their ballot postmarked in time to count. As noted by Ruth Conniff in the Wisconsin Examiner:

The Republicans are not concerned about election integrity or voter confidence. Instead, they see the pandemic as a gift — a form of voter suppression they did not dream up, but that they are determined to take advantage of to help them win, especially when it comes to the State Supreme Court race.

And by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editorial board:

Republicans claim to be standing up for democracy, but an in-person election Tuesday would be the most undemocratic in the state’s history, in addition to putting at risk everything we’ve gained from the past three weeks of staying home and keeping our distance.

Assembly Republican Speaker Robin Vos (center) and Senate Republican leader Scott Fitzgerald (right) would not work with Governor Tony Evers (left) to find a way to conduct a safe election in Wisconsin, defying advice from medical professionals and literally putting voters in the position of having to choose between voting and health risks. (picture via Urban Milwaukee)

As awful, heartless, and hypocritical as Wisconsin’s Republican leadership has been on this issue, it’s important to recognize that Democrats from Joe Biden on down (or up depending on your point of view) have also failed the leadership test. On March 15, after the most credible health officials made it clear that large gatherings would only cause further suffering, Biden said this:

The right to vote is the most sacred right there is. State election officials are working closely with public health officials to hold safe elections. If you are feeling healthy, not showing symptoms, and not at risk of being exposed to COVID-19: please vote on Tuesday.

Dr. Anthony Fauci announced as early as January 31 that “there’s no doubt” that asymptomatic transmission is occurring. If Biden was aware of this warning and chose to ignore or distort it, that’s bad. If he was not aware of the warning, that might be even worse as it calls into question the sincerity of his claim that unlike Trump he will “lead with science.”

As late as last Thursday, Biden was still minimizing the danger of in-person voting during a pandemic, prompting this response:

“I can only wonder if he’s completely aware of the situation on the ground in Wisconsin,” Kim Butler, the head of the Polk County Democratic Party, said of Biden not calling for a delay. “Because I don’t think if he was really seeing and hearing what was going on here that he would necessarily feel that way.”

Joe Biden insists that unlike Trump, who has politicized and downplayed the coronavirus devastation from the start, he will “lead with science.” Unfortunately his public comments on primary elections have not displayed that kind of leadership. (picture from Bloomberg)

Equally pathetic and irresponsible as Biden’s doublespeak was a tweet from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on April 2(!):

Wisconsin: It’s time to wash your hands, grab some antibacterial wipes, and get to the polls this Tuesday to vote in the primary. #AFTvotes #COVID19 @AFTWisconsin @WFHNP

That’s from the leader of a union that represents not only educators, but also healthcare professionals and public employees. You know, the people (health care professionals) urging us to follow stay-at-home orders and the people (public employees) that suffer greatly when such orders are not followed. The reaction to Weingarten’s nonsensical tweet was so swift and angry that she was forced to delete it.

People lined up to vote outside Riverside High School in Milwaukee on April 7, 2020.The city normally has 180 open polling locations. Today, in the midst of a deadly pandemic, there are only 5. (via New York Times) 

Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers deserves credit for his last minute effort to delay the election via executive order, but he erred greatly by spending most of the prior two weeks arguing that he did not have the power to issue such an order. On April 1st he said, “If I could have changed the election on my own I would have but I can’t without violating state law.” When Evers said that, I imagined Mr. Bumble from Dickens’ Oliver Twist: “If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, “the law is a ass – a idiot”.

So here we are. In this political war between power-at-all costs Republicans and ineffective Democrats who could not even count on their presumptive presidential nominee Mr. Biden to lead, the people are now literally collateral damage. What a travesty.

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About Author

Tony Palmeri

Tony Palmeri is a Professor of Communication Studies at UW Oshkosh. He teaches courses in rhetoric and public advocacy, freedom of speech, the rhetoric of rock and roll, and the communication career capstone. He maintains a blog called "Tony Palmeri's Media Rants." Tony served two terms on the Oshkosh Common Council and ran for state legislature in 1996 and 2004. You can find more information about him at www.tonypalmeri.com

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