It’s another new low for America’s leading racketeer-influenced and corrupt organization, formerly known as the Republican Party: Now, they’re trying to use this deadly pandemic to steal an election.
Surprised? Of course you aren’t.
It’s happening in Wisconsin, where the state is moving ahead with Tuesday’s primary even though every sane person agrees that it’s madness to do so under these circumstances. Democrats from Governor Tony Evers on down want to move the primary to May 19 and conduct it largely by mail. A reasonable delay in the name of public health. No one would be disenfranchised. Indeed quite the contrary, probably, since vote-by-mail participation rates in the states that use it are high—certainly a hell of a lot higher than turnout in an election held in a state where people are under order to stay home.
But for Republicans, of course, a higher turnout is exactly the problem. They want low turnout. That’s their posture in general, as Donald Trump made the mistake of admitting last week (in the bailout bill, he said, Democrats “had things—levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again”).
But in Wisconsin, it’s specific. There’s a state Supreme Court seat on the ballot, pitting the conservative incumbent who is backed by Trump against a credible liberal challenger. Should the challenger win, the conservative majority on the court will shrink from 5-2 to 4-3.
Hence, the Republican solution: Forge ahead with the election knowing and hoping that turnout will be a fraction of normal because lower turnout tends to help Republicans.
The state assembly and the state senate, both controlled by Republicans thanks in part to some of the most aggressive gerrymandering in the country, held special sessions Saturday to “consider” Gov. Evers’ proposal. The assembly was gaveled in for 17 seconds, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel; the state senate session was even shorter. The assembly speaker pro tem, the only Republican to show up, refused to comment. “No, not today, gotta go,” he sputtered to reporters.
Some people want Evers to invoke emergency powers, but his people argue that if he does so, it will be immediately challenged by Republicans and will go to the state’s high court, which will rule against him anyway. He argues further that he needs to preserve those emergency powers to fight the pandemic, which is getting worse in the state. In other words, the Republicans have him boxed in, because he’s actually trying to be a responsible chief executive who puts the health and safety of the people of his state first.
Finally, and this part almost goes without saying, Wisconsin Republicans are defending all this by mounting their high horses and preaching about the sanctity of the right to vote. Which, again, no one is proposing to take away.
By the way, about that gerrymandering: If you have a couple minutes to spare, read this Journal-Sentinel study of how abusive the GOP 2011 gerrymandering was. It is true, in Wisconsin as pretty much everywhere, that Democrats live clustered into fewer districts. But the lines the Republicans drew made the situation much more unfair than it might have been. As the paper put it: “Under the old map, Democrats had to outperform the GOP by 2 or 3 points statewide to have a good shot at winning control of the Assembly. But under the current map, Democrats need to out-perform the GOP by closer to 9 or 10 points statewide to have a good shot at winning an Assembly majority.”
We’re used to all that, sickeningly anti-democratic though it may be. But the new wrinkle here, playing politics with a pandemic that is killing hundreds of Americans on an hourly basis, reveals a new level of moral rot and corruption in a party that no longer stands for anything except perpetuation of its own power.
And, of course, don’t think Trump isn’t watching. Now that the presidential election is going to be a referendum on his handling of the pandemic and he’s not going to be able to interest many voters in Hunter Biden’s Ukraine follies, we can be sure that he’s sitting in the residence stewing and plotting about how he can get away with stealing the election.
Fortunately, there are certain basic things he can’t do. The date of our presidential elections was set by a law Congress passed in 1845 (yes, it’s insanely antiquated, which is another problem). Congress would have to change the date, which obviously the Democratic House will not do.
I suppose Trump could try to use his bully pulpit to get states to delay the election, but it’s hard to see how that would work to his benefit. Blue states would defy him, so red states would have to hold the election too or risk what might in essence be a forfeiture of the election. They won’t do that.
However, there are other scenarios. Rick Hasen, one of the country’s leading election law experts, laid them out in a Los Angeles Times column Saturday.
First, he writes, “Trump or state governors could seek to use public health concerns as a pretext to close polling places in Democratic cities in swing states. Voting would still take place, but turnout could be skewed to help Republicans.”
Second, and more frightening, state legislatures could choose their states’ presidential electors. They don’t do that now; voters do. But under law, they have a right to.
As Hasen puts it, “What’s to stop Trump from appealing to Republican-controlled legislatures in the swing states of Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to take back this power from voters under the pretext that the risk of COVID-19 makes voting too difficult? Although all these states, except Arizona, have Democratic governors, some believe that the legislatures could take back this power even without the agreement of the governor.”
They would, obviously, appoint pro-Trump electors. Game over. Read a longer treatment of this scenario from Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern.
Notice that in these two scenarios, Trump and Republicans would be using the virus as the excuse for postponing elections. That would be the opposite of what Wisconsin Republicans are doing now. In other words, there is no consistency, no principle. Which all but guarantees that these gangsters will try it.