As this unprecedented, chaotic semester comes to a close, The Badger Herald Editorial Board takes a moment to review spring 2020’s biggest stories.
“Our Shared Future” Heritage Marker
There is no doubt Native American history reaches deep on the University of Wisconsin campus. Let us not forget that UW is built on land the Ho-Chunk Nation was forced to cede. Years of ethnic cleansing by the federal and state governments unsuccessfully tried to erase the Ho-Chunk people from Wisconsin. As a result, many Native students on campus feel misrepresented and out of place with less than one percent Native American students at UW.
UW has taken small steps to acknowledge and work with tribes on celebrating that history, including adding an American Indian Studies certificate and creating the American Indian Student and Cultural Center. And last year the university continued taking steps to acknowledge the UW Native community with plans for a new heritage marker.
Last June, a group of UW faculty and community members dedicated “Our Shared Future,” a heritage marker designed to educate the UW community about the Ho-Chunk people and their history with the university. The heritage marker will travel around campus to increase awareness. The marker will continue to move until 2021, when it will return to its permanent location at Bascom Hill, according to an announcement earlier this semester. The marker is also meant to honor the Ho-Chunk’s history and resilience and acknowledge how colonization informs our shared future.
According to UW News, the educational effort began last fall when hundreds of people attended events related to the marker, including the Distinguished Lecture Series talk by Samantha Skenandore, an attorney and member of the Ho-Chunk Nation.
And while this marker alone does not make up for the displacement and years of overlooking the American Indian community by the university, it is certainly a welcome step to creating a campus climate where Native students feel welcome.
Evers’ executive order fighting for non-partisan redistricting
On Jan. 27, Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order establishing a nonpartisan redistricting committee in an effort to combat gerrymandering in Wisconsin. This order requires no elected officials, public officials, lobbyists or political party officials to be members of the commission. Rather, it will be made up of residents of the eight districts, members of “communities of interest” and experts in political redistricting.
The order requires the commission to travel throughout Wisconsin to collect public comments and provide information about nonpartisan redistricting. The order also requires the maps to “be free of partisan bias and partisan advantage, avoid diluting or diminishing minority votes through practices of ‘cracking’ or ‘packing’” and “be compact and contiguous.”
The exact policies in creating the redistricting commission are still up in the air. It is still unclear what “communities of interest” refers to, and other measures taken to establish nonpartisanship within the committee have not been clearly stated. More importantly, since this commission was created by executive order, whatever plan comes out of it will just be guidance and will not carry the weight of law. Gerrymandering has historically been a major problem in Wisconsin elections, though Wisconsin’s gerrymandering case was punted by the United States Supreme Court in 2018. The following year, the court ruled partisan gerrymandering cases presented political questions beyond the purview of the federal courts.
The success of Evers’ nonpartisan political committee remains uncertain. With a federal court system that refuses to decide partisan districting cases that strip representative democracy of its legitimacy, Evers’ efforts towards nonpartisan redistricting seem to be Wisconsin’s only hope.
Lawsuit to remove 209,000 registered voters from Wisconsin’s voter list
Restricting voting is one of the Wisconsin Republican Party’s favorite pastimes. From instituting Voter ID laws to advocating for an in-person election and failing to deliver absentee ballots during a global pandemic, accessibility hasn’t exactly been a highlight.
The latest effort to curb voting entailed removing 209,000 names from Wisconsin voter rolls immediately, instead of waiting until after the 2020 presidential election. These names come from records that suggest the voter has moved, though it is unclear how many of these voters reregistered to vote under a new address or have moved out of state. These names were determined by those who did not confirm their mailing address in 2019. Wisconsin Democrats argue this purge disproportionately affects communities of color and younger populations, demographics that tend to vote democratic. In January, an Ozaukee County District Court judge ruled these voters be purged immediately, but the Court of Appeals almost immediately ordered a stay on the action, leaving these thousands of voters in the balance until the Wisconsin Supreme Court decides on the case.
Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the ultimate decision on this case has yet to be decided on the matter. Just this week, Justice Daniel Kelly rescinded his recusal on the case as he thought he would be a candidate while this case proceeded. Instead, he now sits as a defeated incumbent.
While it is clear some voters have switched voting precincts or even states and should be cleansed from the rolls, such broad eliminations will likely surprise some eligible voters come November if the purge as requested is conducted. Especially now, with voter suppression in the state already in the headlines once this year, the Wisconsin Supreme Court must rule to ensure every eligible Wisconsin voter can cast their ballot come November.
Spring primary, Wisconsin Supreme Court election chaos
Most Wisconsin residents and University of Wisconsin students pride themselves on being “Wisconsin Nice,” but our politics tell a shockingly different story. Ours is the legislature that could not hold a governor-requested special session on gun violence that lasted more than a minute, though they stayed up all night to pass a package of bills to limit the very same governor’s power during 2018’s infamous lame-duck session. Based on these previous occurrences — which are only a small sampling of Wisconsin’s political dysfunction — the Wisconsin government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on our elections is not shocking, but still appalling.
Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order April 6 that suspended in-person voting for the spring primary election. Evers’ order called the legislature into a special session April 7 to address the election date. This executive order was prompted by the coronavirus pandemic and signed for the safety of Wisconsinites, according to Evers. Within hours of the executive order, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled the election would proceed as scheduled, completely overriding Evers’ executive order. The court voted along partisan lines, with four conservatives in favor and two liberals against. But wait — there’s more! Then came the U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated absentee votes postmarked after election day, forcing several Wisconsinites to stand in long lines and potentially expose themselves to COVID-19 to exercise their right to vote.
Unofficial results for Wisconsin’s spring primary come in, absentee ballot questions persistCity clerks were able to start counting Wisconsin’s spring primary ballots at four Monday afternoon, though many absentee ballots’ statuses Read…
Justice Brett Kavanaugh claimed counting absentee votes received after the election would “fundamentally alter the nature of the election.” And he was right — voters came out in droves to elect Judge Jill Karofsky to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. This came at a cost, however, as 52 people who worked or voted in the primary election tested positive for COVID-19.
A lot happened over these few days, but there are a few main takeaways. Firstly, the court decisions from the Wisconsin and the U.S. Supreme Courts fell along partisan lines, where Republican-leaning judges refused to postpone the election. Both courts did not meet in person to discuss or vote on these cases, yet they forced thousands to vote in person. And it’s important to mention every single member of the Wisconsin Supreme Court voted early. They were not putting themselves at risk, but the very people they were elected to serve.
As Wisconsin politics continue to be bitterly partisan, and as scientists predict a second, more severe wave of the coronavirus this fall, expect more attempted voter suppression and disregard for public safety come November.
COVID-19 on campus
It goes without saying at this point, but COVID-19 has fundamentally altered life for a lot of people — college students included. For University of Wisconsin students, major campus changes began when in-person classes were cancelled for three weeks on March 11, to remain so until at least April 10. As time progressed, however, it became clear that in-person classes remained unsafe — if anything, a moratorium on gatherings of over 50 people issued by Gov. Tony Evers certainly made it more difficult to hold them, coupled with White House recommendations barring gatherings of over ten. So March 17, Chancellor Rebecca Blank sent an email to UW students, faculty and staff suspending face-to-face instruction for the rest of the semester.
That being said, UW can only bar face-to-face interactions within its own classrooms. Students still flocked to their spring break plans — with college students spending over $1 billion annually on spring break trips, for some, losing deposits was too bitter a pill to swallow. And perhaps unsurprisingly, multiple students returned from their trips with tans, hangovers and COVID-19. After a group of UW students traveled from Tennessee to Alabama, multiple students on the vacation tested positive for the virus once arriving home, prompting UW to send out a campus-wide email recommending a 14-day self-quarantine period.
As we now look to see long-term effects of the pandemic — with some universities already anticipating remote Fall 2020 semesters — expect colleges and college students alike to make some tough calls as the next semester approaches.
The Editorial Board serves to represent the voice of the Badger Herald editorial department, distinct from the newsroom, and does not necessarily reflect the views of each staff member.