Remember the bad old days of Jim Crow Wisconsin? In that deeply oppressive environment voters were forced to cast their ballots in person at a limited number of polling places during a single 13 hour period. On a Tuesday! When people had to work!
And if a voter wanted to cast a ballot by mail they had to have a good excuse. And there were no drop boxes! Oh, the humanity!
But that was in the deep, distant past… way back in 2018. And that year voter suppression worked so well that conservative two-term Gov. Scott Walker was defeated by a liberal Democrat and his running mate, who became the first Black lieutenant governor of Wisconsin, while liberal U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin crushed her Republican opponent. Democrats also won the attorney general’s office and all other statewide offices on the ballot.
Okay. Now that the sarcasm is out of my system (don’t worry, it’ll return), I hope I’ve made my point. Democrats and liberal groups are way over-reacting to the latest court ruling on drop boxes. Last week a Waukesha County judge said that local governments had no authorization under state law to use them. That’s undeniably true. State law is silent on drop boxes. The question is whether, in the absence of a statute, local governments can use them anyway. It’s a fair question that will now go to the state Supreme Court where it should be decided.
But Jeffrey Mandell, of the liberal nonprofit law firm Law Forward was having none of it. “(The judge) says that drop boxes are illegal under Wisconsin law because they’re not mentioned in the statute, but telephones aren’t mentioned in the Bible and nobody thinks that means they are evil and sinful,” Mandell said Thursday.
Seriously, man? For one thing the judge didn’t say drop boxes were evil or sinful, he just said they weren’t authorized under state law. And second, it’s not the interpretation of the Bible that’s in question here (good luck with that, by the way), but what’s allowed under the statutes. Maybe the judge was right or wrong, but there’s really not all that much at stake here.
In a perfect world the Legislature would specifically authorize the use of the boxes under some guidelines administered by the Elections Commission. Maybe that’s something that could be worked out. Republicans want none while Democrats want one on every street corner in Milwaukee and Madison. Could they meet in the middle someplace?
I don’t know. I suppose if the Supremes side with the circuit court no boxes will be allowed and so Republicans will have no reason to want to make a deal. But can we stop acting like the future of American democracy is at stake over the damn drop boxes already? Both sides are over-playing their hands here. Republicans claim voter fraud that is virtually non-existent while Democrats see even the slightest common-sense restriction as the end of democracy as we know it.
In truth, of course Republicans are trying to make it hard to vote and specifically they want to make it harder for Democrats to vote, which means that includes people of color. But the evidence is: 1) This isn’t working; 2) In fact, the very effort may be providing an incentive for people of color to vote; 3) Turnout, high or low, hasn’t been shown to benefit either party; 4) Most (but not all) of the restrictions Republicans want would still result in a system more liberal then what was in place pre-COVID.
Now, in fact, the Republicans are mounting a real attack on our democracy. But, as David Brooks has pointed out, it’s not about what happens before or during the vote but what happens afterwards. The GOP is trying to put their partisan hacks in charge of certifying the legitimacy of results. That’s the real threat, but instead Democrats are wasting energy and political capital focussing on the wrong problem.
For myself, when we’re passed the pandemic, I’d go back to expecting that everybody would vote in person on election day at a polling place. I know! I’m so horribly retro! I want to actually go back to a time — four long, long years ago — when that terribly repressive system elected those reactionaries Tony Evers, Mandela Barnes, Josh Kaul and Tammy Baldwin. Shame on me.
Postscript: Here’s my serious (and futile) argument for getting back to voting on election day: things change. The premise behind early voting is that everybody has made up their mind long before the actual date of the election. This discounts the idea that developments in a campaign — like a turn of events or a revelation about a candidate’s character or a new policy position — can change voters’ minds in the last couple of weeks before an election. It also short-changes local races. A voter has a lot of information about top-of-the-ballot races, but little about races like state representative and senator. Typically, those campaigns wait until the last couple of weeks to spend what money they have on contacting voters.
Welcome to the 338th day of consecutive posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!