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COMMENTARY: US democracy will change amid pandemic

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Democracy is a system by the people, for the people. It is a message that has been passed on by generations, but unfortunately due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), democracy has been called into question as voters grapple with weighing the value of their ballot and their lives, fearful of possibly catching COVID-19. 

Currently, this pandemic has opened up pre-existing problems in the United States. On the national scale, it has shown how our leaders are making tradeoffs between closing down parts of the economy in order to curb the spread of COVID-19. 

When the issue transitions from nationwide to the states, it has been seen to hurt “(B)lack voters, older voters and voters with disabilities” — in Wisconsin at least, according to Vox

While looking under the lens of Wisconsin cannot summarize all the issues nationwide, it is able to address core issues that may not only be specific to the state. Citizens in Wisconsin are voting amid the intersection of few open polling places, long queues and taking on the brunt of COVID-19. 

People are scared now, because “Wisconsin is the lone state so far to proceed with a scheduled election since the coronavirus outbreak got serious in the US," according to Vox. Whereas other state governors have postponed elections to reduce the chances of voters and poll workers risking catching the virus, Wisconsin has moved on with continuing its election.

Wisconsin’s Gov. Tony Evers (D-Wis.) was on the forefront of the issue, wanting to postpone the "date to June 9," but getting overruled by Wisconsin Republicans in the state legislature and state Supreme Court, according to Vox. 

In addition, Evers and his Wisconsin constituents were dealt with another case by the U.S. Supreme Court as the court ruled a 5-4 decision requiring mail-in order ballots to be postmarked by April 7, overruling a lower court’s case to require all ballots to be postmarked by April 13.  

Wisconsin received controversial attention reporting how “last week, 111 jurisdictions reported not having enough poll workers to staff even one voting location. Jurisdictions are significantly limiting where people can vote. Milwaukee, which usually has 180 poll sites, will now have just five,” said Sam Levine, a writer for the Guardian. This shows that there are not enough polling stations to fully represent Wisconsin. Furthermore, it could complicate COVID-19, as long queues and social distancing in a generally packed space may pose a public health risk during this pandemic.

Wisconsin polling during this time of COVID-19 seemed to harm voters. Milwaukee serves as a central hub to many of the state’s Black residents. Being home to “nearly 70 percent of the state’s (Black) residents” sets the population up to be on the front line of a voting crisis, during a real pandemic in America. 

Milwaukee, which makes up a disproportionate amount of Black voters, similarly experienced a disproportionately large amount of COVID-19 cases and deaths with Black people making up “(approximately) half of Milwaukee County’s 945 cases and 81 percent of its 27 deaths in a county whose population is 26 percent (B)lack,” according to ProPublica.

This shows that in counties like Milwaukee, Black voters are likely to be facing the brunt of the COVID-19 and may choose health and safety over voting. 

The lack of available poll workers during Election Days meant the number of available polling places in Milwaukee shrank from 180 to only five for a city of approximately 592,000, when compared to Madison which had 66, for a population of 258,054 with no lines, according to Molly Beck, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter. It showed the logistics of handling its ballots are as spread out as its treatment of the COVID-19 at the time. 

In terms of having fewer stations, this means having larger crowds which will be more problematic for social distancing. It will mean more crowds in the small spaces being operated in. 

Look at the problem as a poll worker: If they are all operating there in hazmat suits, then realistically they foresee that they are interacting with many people and need to be safe as can be. To relate, it is like visiting a Department of Motor Vehicles on the weekends but introducing pandemic conditions. 

Looking at the big picture, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has recently dropped out of the race. It seems at a critical time, too, as Sanders had called for Wisconsin to delay its Tuesday election and continued to advocate for the people by the large, not corporate lobbyists and the questionable values they follow. 

While I cannot comment on for former Vice President Joe Biden’s positions for the most part, I think the race reduces itself to two juggernauts and their respective parties at this time.

Sanders dropping out certainly helps Biden, who does not really have any strong contending opponents also running in the Democratic race. His main opponent now is just President Donald J. Trump, who is riding off of four years of his experience, accompanied by his business ventures.

For sure, voting in elections is still rather important to the people. It is important in terms of voting for people who are able to best represent constituents. Regardless of the situation: pandemic, plague or other life-threatening events, it is still important for those afflicted with these undesirable situations to place their ballots by mail or through some other method. 

Whether you are voting for Red, Blue or another party in the coming fall, one thing is certain: The new administration will be in charge of maintaining these systems that we are currently growing concerned over, like healthcare, jobs and the economy, which have been accentuated due to COVID-19. 

As a result, it should be within your best interest to stay active in voting in the grand scheme of things. Your vote realistically matters most in local elections in your town, but that should not discourage you from voting in state government and the government that is overall encompassing the world stage. (This has been my outlook from taking a political science class back in high school where we interacted with community leaders and went to town meetings about issues ranging from local businesses to housing.) 

Ultimately, while it is still important to vote in elections at this time, many voters face the dilemma of choosing between their health versus casting their ballot. I will respect the decisions of voters, but believe the government should work toward helping minimize this issue if possible.  

Mike Deng is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in information technology and informatics. 


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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