On Monday, Wisconsin's conservative-majority Supreme Court ruled 4-2 along ideological lines to block Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' executive order that had canceled in-person voting in Tuesday’s presidential primary and competitive state Supreme Court election, reversing Evers' decision to postpone the election until June 9 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The court's decision means voting will proceed on Tuesday even as hundreds of polling places around the state won't be open and the state has ordered people to shelter in place to and avoid public gatherings to stop the spread of the virus.
Later on Monday, the U.S. Supreme court issued its own ruling, overturning a lower federal court that had extended the deadline by which voters could send in asbentee ballots. Such ballots must now be postmarked on Election Day and received by 4 PM local time on April 13. Previously, ballots only needed to be received by the April 13 deadline, regardless of when they were postmarked.
Earlier in the day, Evers had issued an order to postpone in-person voting and call the Republican legislature into another special session so that they could expand alternative voting methods such as voting by mail. However, Republicans have consistently opposed any effort to make it easier to safely vote, and they quickly filed a lawsuit before the sympathetic state court to stop him.
Republicans' intransigence had already led to a flurry of litigation and widespread confusion as in-person voting has increasingly become unsafe due to the virus. Indeed, in Wisconsin's biggest city of Milwaukee, which is a Democratic stronghold and home to a majority of its black population, officials slashed the number of in-person polling places from 180 to just five, or one location for every 10,000 voters expected to vote in-person on Tuesday. Roughly 500,000 voters statewide still had yet to return their requested absentee ballots as of Sunday, meaning the ongoing battle over a federal court order extending the deadline to return absentee ballots from April 7 to April 13 could leave hundreds of thousands of voters disenfranchised.
Wisconsin Republicans have so steadfastly refused to protect voters from public health risks by making alternative voting methods easier because—like Donald Trump—they believe that allowing everyone to safely vote would endanger conservative Justice Dan Kelly's chance of winning a key race for the state Supreme Court, where conservative hardliners hold a 5-2 majority (though Kelly recused himself from hearing the case over the election delay). If progressive Judge Jill Karofsky were to win, progressives would have a shot at gaining their own majority when a conservative incumbent faces the voters in 2023.
GOP legislators, who won fewer votes than Democrats in 2018 but maintained sizable majorities thanks largely to their gerrymanders, are aiming to preserve their majority on the court because a future progressive majority could strike down their gerrymanders and voter suppression laws, showcasing the vicious cycle that this week's voter suppression efforts are a part of.
In a time when the coronavirus pandemic is necessitating a massive expansion of mail voting across the country, many Republicans in positions of power are watching what is happening in Wisconsin. If the GOP succeeds in winning this election via mass voter disenfranchisement because hundreds of thousands were unable to safely vote, refusing to expand voting access and hoping that Democratic-leaning voters bear the disproportionate brunt of the pandemic will become the Republican playbook for the November elections if it hasn't already.