Still Advocating for Access to Democracy

Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued an emergency ruling refusing to extend the deadline for absentee voting in today’s Wisconsin election. This is further evidence of how the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing our nation, and our world, to take a hard look at what values are most sacred to us, and demonstrating where our political leaders’ responses are falling short.

Our initial attempts at social distancing had not even run their course before President Trump began pondering loosening restrictions for the sake of the economy. The implication being that economic activity is as important as protecting human lives. The public outcry quickly shut down that debate. People recognized the false choice, when weighing economic activity and the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy simply has to adjust to the reality of the pandemic. Consensus emerged, at least for now, that protecting public health is the paramount concern, leaving our government and businesses to minimize the economic fall-out as best they can.

Unfortunately, this false choice was also embraced by the majority of Supreme Court Justices yesterday in deciding that the Wisconsin elections must proceed as planned, with no extension for absentee voting, despite the clear and present danger to public health in the midst of the pandemic. Not only was this ruling disturbing for Wisconsinites who now must choose between their right to vote and their safety, but it has grave and disturbing implications for the 2020 election. We are in desperate need of strong public outcry to again reject a false choice and demand that leaders find ways to uphold our deepest values and protect human life.

The Supreme Court’s decision strikes a massive blow to voting rights that defies common sense and threatens to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters. The Justices ruled 5-4 that Wisconsin voters would need to choose whether to comply with public health mandates or to exercise their right to cast a ballot. But, it did not have to be this way.

In the weeks leading up to the election, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers took a series of desperate executive actions to make emergency accommodations in the state’s election. He took steps to delay the Democratic Presidential primary and extended time to receive mail-in ballots so that Wisconsinites could maintain their right to vote in the new reality of social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

The Republican controlled legislature challenged each of these actions in court and the day before the election, the Supreme Court’s order reversed the extended deadline for voters to submit absentee ballots. The entire episode is a sad example of how quickly elections are being politicized in the midst of a pandemic. The outcome of this confusing and contentious fight was celebrated as a success for “law and order,” but has undermined both the public health AND the voting rights of the people of Wisconsin.

This false choice between safety and fair voting was avoidable, but the Wisconsin state legislature refused to act to protect the safety of Wisconsinites. This early case study is proof that Congress must act, and act now, to determine a coordinated approach to preparing states for the 2020 election. Without funding and direction from the federal government, we run the risk of massive voter disenfranchisement and will see increasing chaos and civil discord as states scramble to adapt on their own.

NETWORK Lobby and our faith partners are engaged in democracy reform and voting rights advocacy leading up to the 2020 election and into the future. Now, our entire focus is prioritizing the security of the 2020 election and protecting access to democracy as a crucial part of the federal government’s response to COVID 19.