Dreams of a progressive Democratic nominee to tackle Trump in 2020 were crushed last night as Bernie Sanders announced he was ending his campaign, making Joe Biden the de facto nominee. Overshadowed, however, was Biden’s alarming failure to condemn an in-person primary election in Wisconsin, which resulted in long queues in the midst of a pandemic, endangering tens of thousands of voters.
The Wisconsin primary election was held on Tuesday, as voters cast ballots over who should be the next Democratic nominee, as well as a contested position for a judge on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The fact that the election went ahead is highly controversial, considering that sixteen states have already voted to postpone their primaries in light of the coronavirus crisis, and Bernie Sanders was quick to call for Wisconsin to do the same, adding last week that “People should not be forced to put their lives on the line to vote.”
Biden, on the other hand, washed his hands of the situation. “That’s for the Wisconsin courts and folks to decide,” he commented, before declaring that “having tens of thousands of people in one arena is very different than having people walk into a polling booth with accurate spacing, 6 to 10 feet apart, one at a time going in and having machines scrubbed down.” The election, described by Wisconsin’s largest newspaper as the “most undemocratic in the state’s history,” went ahead despite only 5 of the 180 polling stations in Milwaukee being open, leaving officials to prepare for up to 10,000 voters at each station.
Whilst Sanders announced that he would not engage in any “traditional [get out the vote efforts],” despite trailing in the polls, Biden stayed silent. Then, after polls closed, Biden had a sudden change of mind: “we shouldn’t have had the [in-person] election in the first place,” he announced on CNN on Tuesday night.
This U-turn after the fact is scandalous. The only reason this election went forward in the first place was because Wisconsin Republicans were desperate to re-elect their incumbent Supreme Court Justice, Daniel Kelly, who helped overrule the Democrat Governor’s proposal to delay the vote until June. Republicans in Wisconsin have enacted strict voting regulations in relation to ID needed to vote, and have altered many electoral boundaries to become, what the New York Times called, “the most gerrymandered in the country.”
The insistence by Republicans that the election went ahead, despite the obvious danger posed to voters, is the latest in a long campaign of ploys to get their candidate elected no matter what. Joe Biden profited off of this by not speaking out against it until after polls had closed. Sanders had the decency to prioritise his voters’ safety over the value of their vote, and thus was forced to stand down as he knew Biden would easily win. This kind of opportunistic, callous political engineering is exactly what voters feared from a man with such a dubious political record, and bodes ill for the future of the Democratic party under Joe Biden.
Written by Labour Writer, Max Ingleby