Voters in Milwaukee, the state’s Democratic stronghold and the center of its coronavirus outbreak, saw their available polling places drop from 180 to just five, as polling workers — many in an older, high-risk demographic — stayed away. In consequence, lines snaked for blocks, with waits reported to be up to three hours long. Meanwhile, voters in Republican-leaning areas of the state reportedly had a far easier time.
Yet, understandably, plenty of people chose not to vote, despite having voted regularly for years. These abstainers do not deserve scorn for listening to the warnings of public health officials. The blame lies with the state leaders who put them in this impossible position: state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) and state Senate Republican leader Scott L. Fitzgerald.
Mr. Vos and Mr. Fitzgerald refused to move the election date or even to make it slightly easier for people to vote safely — by mail, for example — as Gov. Tony Evers (D) pleaded with them to do. As state election officials were swamped with absentee ballot requests they could not fill before Tuesday, Republicans litigated all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to insist that any mail-in ballots not postmarked by Tuesday be thrown out — even for voters to whom state workers could not send ballots on time.
A 5-to-4 conservative majority on Monday gave the Republicans what they wanted, reasoning that judges should not relax deadlines or make any other last-minute changes to voting rules. That was the wrong call. When people are in line at a polling place at closing time, judges order the polls to stay open. It should have been the same for people who got in line properly for an absentee ballot. The conservative justices’ lack of concern for these thousands of voters will only encourage speculation that their motivation was partisan.
The motivations of Mr. Vos and Mr. Fitzgerald require little speculation. The marquee race in Wisconsin on Tuesday was not the Democratic presidential primary but the retention election for a highly conservative state Supreme Court justice, a race in which Wisconsin Republicans have a large stake. Before Tuesday’s election, Republican state lawmakers had already imposed an extremely gerrymandered legislative district map on Wisconsin, mandated strict voter-ID requirements and stripped powers from Mr. Evers. Forcing voters to make a potentially deadly decision about whether to show up, thereby discouraging turnout, was yet another move in their bare-knuckle fight to hold on to power, even at the expense of democracy.