It was as ugly an electoral debacle as Americans have seen in a while. Wisconsin Republicans forced the state's voters to participate in a statewide election last week, despite the pandemic circumstances, putting thousands of citizens in danger.
As regular readers know, Wisconsin's GOP-led legislature was asked to change state law to ensure that each of the state's voters received absentee ballots they could cast by mail. Republicans refused. They were then asked to reschedule the elections, so voters wouldn't have to choose between their health and their franchise. Republican lawmakers again said no. They proceeded to file lawsuits to make it as difficult as possible on Badger State residents.
There's no great mystery as to why: GOP officials believed holding a hazardous election was necessary in order to ensure a Republican victory in a state Supreme Court election. A conservative justice was on the ballot, and if he prevailed, it would likely help the party with upcoming electoral schemes, ranging from voter purges to district gerrymandering. It's why Donald Trump repeatedly tried to rally support for the conservative incumbent.
What Republicans did not anticipate is that their plan would backfire. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported overnight:
Dane County Circuit Judge Jill Karofsky won the race for Wisconsin Supreme Court, narrowing the conservative majority after a tumultuous election conducted in the midst of a global pandemic, according to unofficial results released Monday. Karofsky's victory marked the first time in a dozen years that a Supreme Court challenger beat an incumbent -- and just the second time in more than half a century. Her win over Justice Daniel Kelly will shift conservative control of the court from 5-2 to 4-3.
With just about all of the votes counted, the contest wasn't especially close: Karofsky, the progressive candidate, defeated Kelly, the conservative incumbent, by double digits.
Republicans effectively dared voters to put themselves at risk. The party apparently didn't realize that quite a few voters were willing to do exactly that.
Stepping back, up until recently Wisconsin appeared to be moving sharply to the right. As recently as 2016, Donald Trump narrowly won the state -- the Democratic ticket had carried Wisconsin in seven of the previous seven cycles -- at a time when Wisconsin was led by a Republican governor and a GOP-led legislature.
But in 2018, Wisconsin voters elected a Democratic governor, re-elected a Democratic U.S. senator, re-elected a Democratic secretary of state, and elected a Democratic state attorney general. Yesterday, they also elected a Democratic-backed state Supreme Court nominee. Democratic candidates even won a majority of state legislative votes in the most recent elections, and they'd be in power were it not for some of the most egregious gerrymandering in the nation.
When making a list of key 2020 battleground states, one might as well start with the Badger State.