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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dems Face Daunting Challenges in Wisconsin

Wisconsin, where Democrats had slated their national convention in Milwaukee, presents a particularly difficult challenge for Democrats in 2020. As Mark Joseph Stern writes in his article, “The Most Important Thing Democrats Can Do in Wisconsin: If Democrats want to win Wisconsin this time, they’ll need to make sure Biden supporters can actually vote” at slate.com:

Stern recounts the horror story that Wisconsin voters encountered in the April primary elections, including the unanticipated rush on absentee ballot requests, the sudden shortage of older poll workers, the consolidation of poling places from 182 to 5, long lines and hours of exposure to Covid-19 infections.

Making matters more problematic, however, in June, “a federal appeals court upheld most of Republicans’ restrictions on ballot access, including a stringent voter ID requirement. Anyone requesting an absentee ballot for the first time will have to provide a copy of an acceptable ID. (State or federal employee IDs don’t qualify, nor do out-of-state driver licenses.) And everyone who votes absentee must procure a “witness” to watch them fill out the ballot, then sign the envelope. The Republican-controlled Legislature has refused to relax this witness requirement in light of the pandemic. But the commission has confirmed that a witness can watch through a closed window or over video chat to reduce risk of exposure.”

It got even worse. “The federal appeals court upheld another contentious constraint on voting: It approved a Republican measure that slashed in-person early voting to just two weeks, down from six in some urban areas.” Stern notes that Milwaukee will have 16 early voting sites, but “Anybody who votes in person will have to bring their ID, and poll workers can ask that they remove their masks for identification purposes. Voters who obtain their ballot through the mail can drop them off at an early voting site.”

“If the state faces another shortage of poll workers,” Stern writes, “Gov. Tony Evers may order members of the state’s National Guard to staff polling places.” Further,

There is another menace lurking in the background of Wisconsin’s coming election: A Republican law firm has urged the court to purge 129,000 people from the voter rolls. It claims, falsely, that state law requires the immediate purge of any voter flagged by an error-prone program designed to identify residents who may have moved. But the court will not hear arguments in the case until 34 days before Election Day. As one notoriously fringe-right justice has noted, this schedule effectively guarantees that the court won’t issue a decision before Nov. 3, keeping those 129,000 on the rolls at least through the election.

But there is still one issue that looms large: the counting of absentee ballots. Like every other swing state except North Carolina, Wisconsin bars election officials from even opening these ballots until Election Day. If the state counts Election Day votes first, then turns to absentee ballots, it will create a blue shift: The returns on election night may give Trump a lead that slowly disappears. A Marquette University Law School poll released on Tuesday showed that Wisconsin Democrats are 3.5 times more likely than Republicans to vote by mail. The poll gave Trump an Election Day lead of 67–26, yet showed Biden winning the state by five points. Trump’s assault on mail-in voting seems to be polarizing voters, guaranteeing a major blue shift if absentee ballots are counted after Election Day votes. The president could seize upon this shift to reject the legitimacy of the results if he loses.

Stern notes that some Wisconsin cities have set up a “central count location,” a strategy which worked “successfully” in Madison on Tuesday. “If everything goes right, then, Wisconsin should avoid the kind of massive blue shift that gives Trump room for chicanery.” Stern adds that “Wisconsin is now well positioned to handle a surge in absentee ballots. Plus, the state allows voters to register at the polls on Election Day, so anyone who can’t navigate the absentee process has a fallback option.”

Although Republicans have majority control of the state legislature, Wisconsin now has a Democratic governor, Tony Evers overseeing the election process as much as possible, which is a hell of a lot better than Republican Scott Walker, who was governor in 2016. Wisconsin Democrats are now on high alert for GOP voter suppression ploys, which will likely be unrelenting in the weeks ahead. It may be that the scaling back of the national Democratic convention in Milwaukee gives Wisconsin Democrats a little more breathing space to check Republican voter suppression. Still, a record-breaking early voter turnout of Wisconsin Democrats will provide the best insurance.

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