March 30, 2020
Guest perspective by State Senator Duey Stroebel
Wisconsin is dealing with the huge, unexpected disruption of the COVID-19 virus and the measures we are taking to combat it. I applaud everyone involved in keeping Wisconsinites healthy, keeping essential businesses running and keeping our stores stocked with critical goods. There is another essential event coming up soon that must not be cancelled or moved: the April 7th election.
Democracies do not move regularly scheduled elections in ad hoc fashion. This is especially the case when changes to election law would affect an already occurring election. As of March 27th, over 767,000 people had already requested absentee ballots. Exhibit one that the process is working… we are on pace to well surpass the 845,000 absentee ballots requested in the 2016 presidential election. We are a country of rules. More ballots have been requested than there were total votes cast in the 2017 spring election. The most recent two spring election turnouts of approximately 1 million and 1.2 million are well within sight. The numbers do not show some great mass of voters without the opportunity to vote.
Wisconsin carrying on through adversity is nothing new. We held a statewide election for Governor in November 1918, near the peak of the Spanish Flu pandemic that killed tens of millions worldwide. We held elections during the Civil War and both World Wars. We do this because elections are peaceful transfers of power and the greatest opportunity to impact government for the average citizen. Regular elections are a symbol of both the strength of our civil institutions and ability to come together under the most trying of circumstances. Every person, including children, instinctively know fair games don’t have rules changed in the middle of the competition. The perception that proposed changes are motivated by partisan advantage is another reason to be very wary.
The COVID-19 situation does mean we need to be smart and take extra precautions. Of course anyone who is concerned to vote should do so through the absentee process. Local election officials should maximize the opportunity for absentee voting for their communities. Municipal workers sidelined from normal duties for health concerns could be reassigned to help with administrative support for clerks. Wisconsin has an elections system that is strong and tested.
The timely selection of leaders is as essential to our state as any endeavor. We cannot have courts and local governments all over the state with vacancies when current terms expire. Polling locations were recognized as such in the “Safer at Home” order. Wisconsinites should pull together to hold our annual spring election at its normal time. In doing so, we honor those who sacrificed more than most of us ever will to give us the right to hold these elections.