a blog, newsletter, and kaleidoscope notebook about politics, the media, and culture
by tom bunting, a Real Journalist

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In an essential test, Joe Biden is failing

April 7, 2020 12:11 PM
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In an essential test, Joe Biden is failing

Today, voters across the state of Wisconsin are facing a difficult choice: participate in the essential democratic process of voting and risk getting sick or...don’t.


I’m writing this at 3:16pm on Monday, about 15 minutes after the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that Governor Tony Evers cannot delay tomorrow’s elections. Barring an intervention from the state health department, it appears that voters in Wisconsin will—theoretically at least—be going to go to the polls by the time you’re reading this.

Evers spent most of the last two weeks publicly dragging his feet on whether or not to delay the election; first he was against it, then he tried to expand mail-in voting, then, finally, he just straight up tried to delay the whole thing until June. Along the way, he faced unprecedented opposition from state Republicans, who have challenged his mail-in voting expansions in court and refused to pass any legislation delaying the election. That’s because conservative Supreme Court justice Daniel Kelly is facing a tough reelection against Jill Karofsky on Tuesday, and conventional wisdom holds that expanded mail-in voting would benefit Karofsky. (Expanding voter enfranchisement usually benefits Democrats, hence the push by Republicans for more stringent voter ID laws.)

It’s clear that holding in-person voting during a pandemic is a terrible thing to do. We’ve seen the results already; at least three poll workers in Florida contracted coronavirus after the state held elections last month in defiance of CDC guidelines against large gatherings.

Yet only one candidate in the Democratic primary has loudly and unequivocally called for Wisconsin to delay their primary. Bernie Sanders put out a statement last week calling for the primary to be pushed back, saying that “people should not be forced to put their lives on the line to vote.” Meanwhile, Joe Biden said last week that the election “could be done based on what I've been hearing from the news.” He also failed to call for a large-scale and automatic expansion of mail-in voting, as Evers proposed around the same time.  

You can accuse both Sanders and Biden of playing politics here. Sanders, obviously, is in a dire position in the primary, and yet another blowout may force him to finally drop out. Biden very much wants this to happen, so that he can fully transition into preparing for the general.

But Biden’s reluctance to stand up for voter safety may prove to be hugely damaging come the general election. Many experts are now predicting a possible resurgence of coronavirus in the fall, a pattern we saw in the Influenza Outbreak of 1918. If that happens, Democrats will undoubtedly have to fight tooth and nail to expand mail-in voting. Trump has already signaled that he would be opposed to any plans like that.

Biden’s indifference to the risk posed by today’s election will be remembered, both morally and tactically.