|Voters wait in line to cast ballots in Milwaukee on Tuesday. Photograph: Daniel Acker/Reuters|
The state’s holding of a primary during a pandemic is just the latest example of Republicans’ naked bid to keep power at all costs
emergency request from the governor, Tony Evers. With Covid-19 cases in the thousands, Evers implored the lawmakers to delay in-person voting for the state’s presidential primary and mail a ballot to every voter in the state.ess than 72 hours before polls opened in Wisconsin on 7 April, the state legislature convened to weigh an
It was a meeting only in name. Republicans, who control 63 of 99 seats in the state assembly, sent just one member. He brought the session to order and then immediately ended it without taking up the governor’s request. It took just 17 seconds. In the Republican-controlled state senate, the same thing happened, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It took even less time.
The legislature’s defiance was a naked display of unabashed power – an elected body refusing its governor’s request and turning its back on its constituents in a time of crisis.
The Republican lawmakers who didn’t even bother to show up for the emergency session on Saturday knew that their re-election was guaranteed because of a successful party effort over the last 10 years to entrench themselves in power. Even in a state at the center of some of the most hard-nosed fights over voting, it was a stunning series of events.
That assault on democracy began in 2011, when Republicans drew new lines for political districts in Wisconsin. It was part of a national Republican effort, called Project Redmap, to capture state legislatures and, with those victories, to gain control over redrawing the lines of each district. The goal of Redmap was to conjure districts that would advantage Republicans and disadvantage Democrats – a process called gerrymandering. The writer and author David Daley called Project Redmap “the most audacious political heist of modern times”.
Karl Rove, former senior adviser to George W Bush announced the redistricting effort in the Wall Street Journal, claiming, rightly, that whoever controls redistricting also controls Congress. Later, according to the New Yorker, when Rove addressed potential funders of Redmap in Dallas, he said “People call us a vast rightwing conspiracy. But we’re really a half-assed rightwing conspiracy. Now it’s time to get serious.”
For $1.1m – a small sum in campaign dollars – Republicans won the state legislature and went on to curb Democratic power by passing a strict voter ID law, making it harder for minorities and students to vote, and later stripped statewide elected officials of some of their authority.
“I don’t think many people who are aware of what’s going on, and are tuned into politics and government in this state, would say that it’s anything even resembling a democracy,” said Jay Heck, the executive director of the Wisconsin chapter of Common Cause, a government watchdog group.
On Tuesday, voters risked their lives to go to the polls, waiting hours in line in Milwaukee. So far, turnout looks like it will be a fraction of what it was in 2016, and that is believed to benefit Republicans, who were seeking to maintain control of a seat on the conservative-leaning state supreme court. It was the state supreme court who voted along partisan lines to overrule Evers’ last-minute effort and to allow the election to move forward.