MIAMI — We are increasingly seeing the erosion of democratic institutions in the United States.
Our elections have historically seen widespread voter suppression tactics to keep people from the ballot box but Republicans are upping the ante. Wisconsin recently held its primary presidential election and a highly contested state supreme court election despite the outbreak of coronavirus across the globe.
The state supreme court overturned an executive order from Wisconsin’s governor to postpone elections and forced voters to stand in line for hours, six feet apart, under rain and sleet in the midst of a deadly pandemic. The GOP was hoping that depressed voter turnout would give conservative justice Dan Kelly a better opportunity to retain his seat. Fortunately, this was not the case, and progressive Jill Karofsky won that election.
I waited 2.5 hours today in rain and hail (and a mask and gloves) to vote in Milwaukee because @wisgop and @scotus would rather risk lives than have a fair election. Instead of 182 polling sites, we had 5. #VoterSuppression #WisconsinPrimary pic.twitter.com/9F8xKwciOX
— Trudy Harwood (@TrudyandPierre) April 8, 2020
It appears that the lesson Republicans got from that election was that it’s better to avoid elections altogether. In Georgia, conservative supreme court justice Keith Blackwell is resigning a few weeks before his six-year term expires. There was supposed to be an election but instead Georgia’s Republican governor Brian Kemp and the Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, outright canceled it. This will allow Kemp to appoint a successor instead, who will serve two years and allow the seat to remain under GOP control.
Just like that, a six-year term for Republicans turned into an eight-year one, and the voters in Georgia were robbed of an opportunity to participate in the democratic process and elect a supreme court justice.
Both the Democrat and Republican candidates for the supreme court seat filed lawsuits in an effort to have the election reinstated but these were struck down by the state supreme court in a 6-2 vote.
The rationale is a provision in the Georgia Constitution that states that “an appointee to an elective office shall serve until a successor is duly selected and qualified and until January 1 of the year following the next general election which is more than six months after such person’s appointment.” This is in conflict with another provision within the constitution that states an election must be held in case of a vacancy and suggests that the primary method of choosing a Georgia supreme court justice is not necessarily an election.
The Georgia decision means that any judge can effectively retire right before their term expires and if the governor is of their same political party, they can just appoint their replacement in this fashion.
Georgia and Wisconsin serve as a warning to the increasingly faltering democracy in the United States. For example, Wisconsin Republicans have taken control of the legislature without capturing the popular vote due to heavily gerrymandering districts. Even if Democrats won 54% of the vote, the GOP would still have a nine seat edge in the state assembly. The Wisconsin GOP can win 60% of the statehouse seats with just 48% of the vote.
The United States likes to boast of being a model for democracy but the reality is that people are not only kept from the ballot box through voter suppression but our elections themselves are being undermined by brazen power grabs. Trump himself admitted that Republicans benefited from lower voter turnout, saying, “the things they had in there were crazy. They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
Instead of undermining our democratic processes for political gain, we should demand that instead we institute national vote by mail so people can vote safely at a time when they are at risk due to a global pandemic.
Thomas Kennedy is a communications fellow for Community Change Action. He was a member of the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign and tweets from @Tomaskenn.