Wisconsin's conservative Supreme Court Monday night overturned an executive order by Gov. Tony Evers and—against the urgent pleas of medical professionals and many lawmakers—ruled that the state's Democratic presidential primary election and thousands of down-ballot contests must proceed as scheduled Tuesday despite the severe health risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, said in a statement Monday night that the Wisconsin Supreme Court's 4-2 party-line decision—for which it offered no explanation—"is dangerous, disregards the guidance of public health experts, and may very well prove deadly."
"It's outrageous that the Republican legislative leaders and the conservative majority on the Supreme Court in Wisconsin are willing to risk the health and safety of many thousands of Wisconsin voters tomorrow for their own political gain," said Sanders.
The Vermont senator said that to protect staffers and voters, his campaign "will not be engaged in any traditional [get out the vote efforts]" on Tuesday. Sanders has called for the election to be delayed while his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, has said the contest can safely take place.
It's outrageous that the Republican legislative leaders and the conservative majority on the Supreme Court in Wisconsin are willing to risk the health and safety of many thousands of Wisconsin voters tomorrow for their own political gain. https://t.co/Ut5ZQVBqhB
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) April 7, 2020
Wisconsin has more than 2,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and likely many more unconfirmed. Nearly 80 people in the state have died from the virus.
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In addition to the Democratic presidential primary election, Wisconsin on Tuesday is also holding around 4,000 down-ballot contests, including a highly consequential race for a state Supreme Court seat.
While Wisconsin's Republican lawmakers—who led the legal challenge against Evers' executive order—praised the state Supreme Court's ruling Monday night as a victory for "democracy," state Democratic chairman Ben Wikler said the decision will "disenfranchise untold thousands of Wisconsin voters and consign an unknown number of Wisconsinites to their deaths."
Evers echoed Wikler, saying in a statement that "thousands will wake up and have to choose between exercising their right to vote and staying healthy and safe."
"In this time of historic crisis," said Evers, "it is a shame that two branches of government in this state chose to pass the buck instead of taking responsibility for the health and safety of the people we were elected to serve."
Further compounding the public health risk, the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court Monday night overturned a lower court ruling that extended the deadline for absentee voting in Wisconsin, potentially driving more people to crowded polling places.
"The Republican justices on the Supreme Court are again putting their thumbs on the scale to try to decide an election," said Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice. "This is unlikely to be the last voting rights case to come before the Court this year in light of the pandemic, and this ruling is an ominous sign of what may be in store. This decision is outrageous, but it's not surprising."