Democrats get a big win in Wisconsin after scandalous election — and Trumps gets a red flag for 2020

Democrats get a big win in Wisconsin after scandalous election — and Trumps gets a red flag for 2020
Judge Jill Karofsky, image via Screengrab.

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Jill Karofsky has unseated Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly in a key race that will narrow the court’s conservative majority in this crucial swing state. The victory also sets progressives up to take control of the court when its next member is up for election.


Tuesday’s contests went ahead amidst the coronavirus pandemic despite a last-minute order from the state’s governor, Democrat Tony Evers, seeking to postpone it. Evers’ order, however, was quashed by the conservatives on the state Supreme Court, forcing Wisconsinites to choose between exercising their right to vote and protecting their health. An extreme shortage of poll workers led to excessively long lines in the few precincts that were able to open.

In a separate case, conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal judge’s ruling that extended the deadline to return absentee ballots, instead mandating that they be postmarked by Election Day, April 7. That decision disenfranchised an untold number of voters, including some who only received ballots after the deadline and others whose ballots, for a variety of reasons, failed to acquire a postmark. Some voters reported never receiving a ballot altogether.

Litigation has already been filed over the way the election was handled, though it’s not clear what sort of remedy, if any, a judge might fashion, or whether the courts would be willing to step in to set aside the results.

Should Karofsky’s victory stand, however, conservatives will now hold just a 4-3 edge on the Supreme Court, which has, over the last decade, never restrained the extremist legislative agenda pushed through by state Republicans. That includes efforts to suppress the vote, undermine workers’ rights, and gerrymander electoral maps. With only a one-seat advantage, Republicans may encounter legal roadblocks they had long grown unaccustomed to.

And in a few years’ time, they could be facing a liberal court. In 2023, Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, another conservative, will see her current 10-year term expire. If progressives can flip her seat, they’ll gain a majority on the bench and finally be able to place a check on the GOP. Most importantly, if Republicans are able to gerrymander yet again following this year’s census, a progressive state Supreme Court would be able to revisit any unfair maps.

The outcome is also a black eye for Donald Trump, who repeatedly touted his support for Kelly and is counting on victory in Wisconsin—which he carried four years ago by a margin of less than 0.8 percent—to win a second term. While the electorate could look different in the fall, Republicans cannot be happy to lose a statewide race in one of their most important November battlegrounds.

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