In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wisconsin held its presidential primary April 7. Many people claimed that voters should not be put in a position of having to choose between their health and their right to vote.
Because politics never stops, even in the midst of a global calamity, Wisconsinites fought over what to do right up to Election Day. Many wanted to increase its vote-by-mail opportunities so fewer people would have to leave their homes. However, the Democratic National Committee went to court to delay the election outright.
The Thursday before the election, a federal judge turned down the DNC’s request, but said the window for vote-by-mail ballots should be extended to April 13 and that the state elections board would be banned from announcing any election results before that day.
The Republican National Committee then took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-4 unsigned opinion, the high court overruled the lower court, saying the decision would “alter the nature of the election by allowing voting for six additional days after the election.”
That decision was handed down an hour after the Wisconsin Supreme Court had turned down Gov. Tony Evers’ last-minute effort to use his state emergency powers to postpone the election unilaterally. This was a switch for Evers, who had previously used an executive order to exempt polling places from his ban on mass gatherings.
So, the election was held with the spectacle of long lines of intrepid voters wearing face masks as minimal protection against the virus. The long lines were made longer because of social distancing, but also because the city of Milwaukee opened only five of its 180 polling places for its 600,000 residents. Milwaukee is the epicenter of Wisconsin’s COVID-19 outbreak. Some voters waited up to two hours in a cold rain before voting (which should also give pause to those concerned about public health).
Now, some Democrats, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., are calling for a nationwide mail-in ballot to be used this fall. Republicans are strongly resisting that idea, and the chances of Klobuchar getting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to agree to her plan and President Trump to sign the bill is about zero.
In Minnesota, we have a better system in place. Any registered voter who wants to vote without going to the polls can request an absentee ballot without giving a reason and cast it anytime in the 60 days before Election Day. The ballot can be mailed in.
To be sure, absentee or early voting has certain unique issues. Events may change in the last days before an election. (In Minnesota’s recent presidential primary, 7 percent of the Democrat votes cast were for candidates who had already dropped out of the race.)
Another concern can be found in the 2005 report of the Commission on Federal Election Reform chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker III. It concluded in part, “Absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud.”
Another avenue to changing the law to an all-mail ballot would be for the Minnesota Legislature to act unilaterally. With the Republicans opposed to the idea and in control of the state Senate, any such effort would have about as much chance as Klobuchar’s congressional effort.
Regardless, all citizens age 18 and over with few exceptions have the right to vote, and Minnesota’s system gives them ample opportunity to do so. Minnesota continues to have the best or close to the best voter turnout percentage of any state in the nation. It can accommodate anyone concerned about contracting COVID-19.
This is an opinion of the APG/ECM Editorial Board. Reactions welcome. Send to: email@example.com.