Wisconsin's bad example

Apr 9, 2020 By Steven R. Peck, Publisher

Presumably, we still will be having our Wyoming primary and general elections later this year.

Let's make a promise to ourselves ahead of time: What happened this week in Wisconsin must not happen in Wyoming.

Most followers of news by now have seen either the photographs or video of the scenes outside polling places in that state, which on Tuesday held its presidential primary and state primary election.

The right word to characterize the situation there is debatable. Would that word be comical? It certainly wasn't funny, but it was absurd. Laughs of shock and derision must have been commonplace.

Surreal? It was taking place right in front of us, but it was so strange and disturbing that anyone watching, much less trying to participate, must have thought "is this actually happening?"

Accidental? Could lines stretching for a mile while people waited as long as eight hours to vote, standing in the chill, keeping the COVID-mandated 6 feet of "social distance" between them, with thousands then being turned away at the polling place after standing outdoors -- could this actually have been part of any plan?

In fact, not only was it part of the plan, it was fought for. After voters, local election officials and the governor begged for a later election date, for more time to conduct mail-in balloting, even for longer polling hours at the reduced number of voting stations in Wisconsin, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in and actually ordered that this fiasco be allowed to continue.

Fremont County, with its 40,000 people, typically has a dozen places to vote on primary day. Milwaukee, a city of 600,000 residents, had just five polling places open. This wasn't an election. It was an anti-election.

If the Wisconsin primary did any good at all, it was to demonstrate to Wyoming and the rest of the nation what not to do. There are other ways to vote now. No voting method is perfect, but mail balloting has been used reliably for decades in some places. True, it erodes the Norman Rockwellian spirit of community voting on crisp November mornings at the grange hall -- but so does creating what looks like a refugee crisis at a war-torn border crossing and calling it an election.

The guiding, overriding principle of conducting an election must be facilitating voting, giving as many people the chance to vote as possible, and bending over backward to accommodate the voters so that they don't have problems.

So, when one party -- either party -- appeals to the Supreme Court to help prevent a mode of voting that the party knows would be dangerous to its own election chances, when in the midst of a global pandemic we tell people the only way they can exercise their franchise to vote - literally - is to endanger their own lives by gathering in a public place, and when the outcome is played out in preposterous, infuriating imagery in front of the nation, it can be said, unequivocally, that the overriding principle of "facilitating voting" has not been met. Not even close.

There are many candidates for the most ridiculous moment in that primary. Here's oner A local party official was standing in front of a group of bedraggled but determined would-be voters. They were wearing their sweatshirts and their wool socks, their lunches in papers bag because they knew they'd be there all day, wearing cloth masks over their noses and mouths amid COVID worries, to listen to this party official tell them that they were "incredibly safe" at the polling place.

Meanwhile, the man reassuring them was wearing what looked like a spacesuit. Every inch of his body was covered in protective clothing and accessories. He looked as if he were being sent in to wash down a nuclear reactor following an accident - yet he had the gall to stand there and tell these ordinary voters that they were "incredibly safe."

To top it off, voters now have learned that the votes from that primary election won't even be calculated and reported until next week. If virtually non-existent "voter fraud" really is a concern, then this spectacle won't put minds at ease.

These are procedures reminiscent of a Third World democracy trying to stage its first election, not the United States of America. If this were happening in Africa, we'd send in Jimmy Carter to monitor the process and scold the local officials.

This should never have happened in Wisconsin. So let's not permit it to happen in Wyoming. With luck - and responsible behavior from our citizens - the coronavirus outbreak will have dwindled by August, when Wyoming's primary election is scheduled. By November, when the general election rolls around, it would be alarming were the virus crisis still so severe that we couldn't have our nationwide vote in the normal way.

But if there's even the slightest doubt about it, then every voting precinct, county, and state in the nation, from Fremont County to California, must have better contingency plans in place than Wisconsin showed on Tuesday.

We're the country that landed a man on the moon, built Hoover Dam, created the national parks, invented the s'more, and and created "The Sorpanos," and put a mind-boggling electronic information gizmo in every household in the nation.

Surely, then, we can figure out a better way to vote than the laughable failure that was the Wisconsin primary. Wyoming, let's show 'em how it's done.

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