“I’m not one of these people who says that’s necessarily an unalloyed good,” Esenberg told me. “To some extent, I do believe that if people are not willing to make some effort to vote, maybe that indicates that they’re not that interested and they’re not going to inform themselves, and it’s just as well that they don’t vote.”
To conservatives like Esenberg, prioritizing turnout as a benchmark is a mistake.
“Should we evaluate the fairness of our voting laws simply by how many people vote, and that’s sort of the sign of a functioning democracy?” he said. “I don’t know that that’s true. Everybody votes in Cuba, but nobody thinks that’s a well-functioning democracy. I don’t worry as much about how many people vote. I think there’s a lot of people who aren’t particularly interested in voting.”
Whether the election will happen tomorrow is unclear less than 24 hours before polls are due to open. Evers today issued an emergency order to postpone it until June 10, but GOP leaders said they’d immediately challenge the move before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, where conservatives have a majority.
Until this morning, Wisconsin officials were proceeding with the election in defiance of other states that have postponed theirs in recent weeks. In part, that decision was due to the importance of the state’s elections. The Democratic primary between former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders is not the only contest on the ballot; voters must choose a new justice to sit for the next decade on the state’s highest court, and thousands of local offices for mayor and other positions are also up for grabs.
Voters might have to venture out to precincts even as a shortage of poll workers due to the coronavirus has forced a drastic reduction in numbers of polling places. They’d be able to cast an in-person ballot at just five sites in the state’s biggest city, Milwaukee; Waukesha, a city of 70,000, will have only one place to vote.
What Evers is trying to do in Wisconsin—mail every voter a ballot—is what Democrats want to do nationwide in case the pandemic reemerges in a second wave this fall. Esenberg warned that if state officials tried to mail every voter in Wisconsin a ballot, “you’re going to wind up mailing hundreds of thousands of ballots to people who are not eligible to vote at that address.
“That’s very problematic when it comes to ballot integrity and public trust in our elections,” he told me. “Maybe there was some reason that we should have kept these voter rolls accurate, so that we wouldn’t have this kind of problem.”
Republican leaders in Wisconsin have taken the same position. They have said that the last-minute push for all-mail balloting is “logistically impossible” in so short a turnaround, and “an invitation for statewide voter fraud.”
“Making such a dramatic change in how we do elections in a crisis is probably not good public policy,” Andrew Hitt, the chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, told me on Thursday. “That’s how you do poor public policy, by doing it in a hurry.”