Wisconsin continues its intriguing experiment in holding a public vote in the midst of a pandemic this afternoon. Thus far turnout seems surprisingly strong, at least in judging by the lines to access the voting stations in Milwaukee. NBC affiliate WTMJ put a drone up in the air and got a bird’s-eye look at the long — but socially distant — queue on the sidewalk around a local high school’s precinct:
“This is nuts,” said one voter from that location who called into a WTMJ radio show:
WTMJ fan Mickey joined Steve Scaffidi and described a scene of countless voters in a blocks-long line extending far beyond Riverside High School. It was one of only five voting centers available on Election Day during the coronavirus pandemic when the city normally would have 180 centers, but so few poll workers were willing to work due to fears of contracting the virus.
“This is nuts. The line is literally around the school, back around the park,” Mickey said.
“Nuts” is a good summation of this angry Politico analysis of the primary today, too. Natasha Korecki argues that the infighting over this issue in the past few days exposes just how broken Wisconsin’s governance has become. Rather than come together in an emergency, the scorched-earth politics of the last ten years — initiated by a legislative walkout and a union-backed futile recall election — rendered the state government incapable of the simple task of delaying the primary by a few weeks:
At a time when the surgeon general is warning that this week could be the nation’s most dangerous to date — comparing the scale of the potential loss to Pearl Harbor and 9/11 — Wisconsin is on the verge of becoming the only state in April that failed to find a way to delay voting. The Democratic governor made a last-ditch plea to close the polls. The GOP-led Legislature and Wisconsin Supreme Court shut him down.
It’s a civic catastrophe that never should have happened. But it’s also the culmination of a decade of total political war waged across one of the nation’s most competitive states — a Midwestern battleground poised to play an oversized role in the presidential election in November.
“I’ve been here 10 years watching this. I am surprised that I’m surprised,” former Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said of the politics he believes pushed the election forward amid a pandemic. “If anybody thinks that if we were under Gov. [Scott] Walker that this court would have ruled the same way that they have today has not been paying attention to what’s been going on in this state for the last decade.”
The scorched earth politics that led to this moment dates back long before the polarization of the Trump era. Hundreds of millions of dollars — much of it from outside groups — have poured into state races since 2010, when Walker’s first election as governor kicked off years of acrimony that infected the state’s political culture at every level.
The court isn’t really the issue here, however. Under state law, the governor doesn’t have the authority to act unilaterally to postpone an election, which left the court with little choice but to refer the matter back to the legislature and the governor to work out the issue. That is precisely where the leadership failure took place, former governor Scott Walker told Fox News last night. Had Tony Evers put forth a coherent plan and offered a consistent position on postponing the primary, it would have turned out far differently:
“This shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said on Fox News Monday night. “The governor should have stepped in weeks ago.” …
“But unfortunately. weeks ago, the governor himself was saying there should be an election, and less than two weeks ago he said he couldn’t do anything,” Walker recalled. “Then just days ago he called for a special session and today he switched yet again saying they were going to postpone.”
“It’s just a huge mess for everyone all across the state of Wisconsin,” he added.
True enough — Evers has been all over the place on this point rather than demonstrating any real leadership on it. However, the Republican-controlled legislature hasn’t fared much better. They could have passed a delay when they were finally called into special session over the weekend, but chose not to act instead. Evers’ flip-flopping didn’t give them much political cover for delaying the primary, but they probably didn’t need much political cover for it, either. Voters who have to go out and stand in line today are likely to say a pox on both houses as a result, irony fully intended. And they would not be wrong, even if one side probably deserves more overall blame than another.
This disaster serves as a reminder that scorched-earth politics has consequences far beyond the acute issues and ambitions at hand. This time, it might produce a body count — unless Wisconsin gets very, very lucky in implementing social distancing in an election process.