After the election of George Washington in 1789, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin if the United States was a republic or a monarchy. He responded, “A republic, if we can keep it.”
Under norms of rationality, the recent Wisconsin democratic primary would never have happened. Governor Tony Evers sought to postpone the in-person Democratic primary because of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders issued by his own office. This appeal was denied by the conservative Wisconsin state supreme court and later denied by the similarly-conservative U.S. Supreme Court – a Supreme Court which, by the way, cast their votes on this remotely, a privilege not granted to Wisconsin citizens. Television cameras focused on thousands of primary voters wearing masks, trying to position themselves six feet apart from each other as they stood in line for as long as two hours.
These people risked their lives not only to exercise a fundamental right, but to do their civic duty, when seeking absentee ballots could have protected them. As they reached the interior of the voting sites, they had to stay within two feet of poll workers… many of whom were elderly and therefore part of a vulnerable population. Wisconsin voters carried signs reading, “This is crazy,” and “Is this democracy?”
This irrational and irresponsible decision could infect many citizens with the virus and cost lives. It was later discovered that nine thousand absentee ballots requested earlier by voters were never sent, disenfranchising people who followed the rules to vote absentee.
Voter suppression is not a new phenomenon. Numerous barriers to voting came to light during the 2018 mid-term election. In Dodge City, KS, the polling site was moved from a centrally-located area to the outskirts of town more than a mile from the nearest bus stop, making it more difficult for the poor and Hispanic citizens to vote. In North Dakota, Native Americans were deprived of the opportunity to vote because they did not list an address when registering to vote; reservations do not have street addresses. In Georgia, many African American voters were removed from the rolls because they had not voted in the previous two elections.
After the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision to weaken the landmark voting rights act, many states lost no time eliminating polling places. Arizona closed 320 sites in 13 counties. Southern states have closed 1,200 voting sites. There was one common denominator in these closings: the large majority was in areas populated by people of color.
Voter suppression is real and growing. I believe in light of this obvious weakening of fundamental democratic rights, Benjamin Franklin would answer the question about our nation much differently today.