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No Election That Endangers Voters Is Legitimate

Despite the blatant public health danger it poses and the widespread voter disenfranchisement that will occur, Wisconsin will hold its primary tomorrow. People will die as a result — and the results should be seen as illegitimate.

Nik Anderson / Flickr

At the time of this writing, it appears the Wisconsin Democratic presidential primary will proceed as scheduled tomorrow during a once-in-a-century global pandemic. Over the weekend, Wisconsin governor Tony Evers issued an order postponing Tuesday’s election until June 9, but today the Wisconsin Supreme Court, in a four-to-two vote, overrode the governor’s decision.

The polls are scheduled to open in the morning despite in-person voting flying in the face of public-health advisories to avoid crowds — of which there will be many, with only a fraction of polling stations prepared to open. (The Hill reports that in Milwaukee, between six and twelve stations plan to open, as opposed to the 180 during the 2016 primary.)

The state Supreme Court ruling means the Democratic presidential primary between former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders is back on for Tuesday. Polls show Biden with a massive lead over Sanders in Wisconsin, but neither candidate has been advertising in or visiting the state. The primary race has effectively ground to a halt as Biden is marooned at home and Sanders works from Washington.

This is both cartoonishly obvious mass public endangerment and an act of voter suppression. And Wisconsin’s is also set to be the second in-person primary in the span of a few weeks that the Biden campaign is urging forward — something the mainstream press has almost entirely failed to report on.

Tuesday’s primary in Wisconsin will be illegitimate — and those urging it forward should be held responsible for the wrongful deaths for the COVID-19 infections and fatalities that will result.

But then, if the Wisconsin primary were illegitimate for reasons of voter suppression via mass public endangerment, that exact same standard should hold to the March 17 primaries in Illinois, Florida, and Arizona — another election day held during a plague, as one candidate, Biden, said full steam ahead, and the other, Sanders, discouraged voters from showing up to avoid spreading an infection.

As I wrote last week, the Biden campaign and DNC, in direct contravention of CDC guidelines, insisted on holding the March 17 primaries in person, while the Bernie Sanders campaign suggested a rescheduling out of concern for public health and dropped their usual GOTV comms operation. Accountability for the needless deaths set into motion on March 17 is unlikely, and the Biden campaign is tragically repeating the same mistake tomorrow.

The culpability for misinforming the public on the March 17 primary’s safety is widespread, from Biden’s campaign (both the candidate himself and his surrogates), to DNC Chair Tom Perez, to cable news. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, for example, tweeted a now-deleted encouragement last week: “Wisconsin: it’s time to wash your hands, grab some antibacterial wipes and get to the polls this Tuesday to vote in the primary.”

It’s all one of the most underreported public health crises of this year and should be a national scandal. If a candidate and party organization openly encourage their voters to risk infection (and thus possible death), and no one hears about it, how can we ensure future safe elections in pandemic conditions? No bad actor in the scandal has received any disincentive to not repeat the same mass public endangerment.

Beyond the reckless endangerment of insisting on elections in the middle of the pandemic, Democratic officials, the Biden campaign, and the mainstream media echoing their talking points have also engaged in mass voter suppression. Immunocompromised voters who stayed home, student voters forced to move last-minute due to school shutdowns, voters who were wise enough to ignore the Democratic Party and take the science seriously enough to avoid putting themselves and others at risk by voting — all of those voters will be disenfranchised. What of their right to vote?

These are urgent questions of basic civil rights, and they will only become more pressing as we navigate a national election year in the midst of a plague. We need to resolve these questions immediately — there isn’t much time left.

But to have that debate, we need a media that will acknowledge the initial wrong even happened, and treat it as the simultaneous civil rights and public health crisis it so clearly constitutes. Right now, we don’t have such a media.