By LaKeshia Myers
Where you there when they crucified my Lord?
Where you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble! were you there when they crucified my Lord?
“Father, I cannot forgive them for they know exactly what they do!” I said to myself silently as I walked back to my car. I was leaving John Marshall High School, where the line to vote was wrapped around two city blocks. I had gone to Marshall because I wanted to encourage and be with my constituents who chose to brave COVID-19 and the rain to cast their vote in the Spring Presidential Preference Primary on April 7. My colleague and I took hamburgers and cheeseburgers to the voters who waited in line and in their cars.
But the anger and inability to forgive is still in my heart, because these people shouldn’t have had to choose between their health and their vote. This was voter suppression pure and simple and it was perpetrated by Republicans and Democrats alike. There are several culprits with whom I place blame. Primarily, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald—the leaders of the majority party in both the state assembly and the senate. They have blatantly refused to call an extraordinary session of either house to deal with anything COVID-19 related.
Understanding that election day was mandated by state statute, they refused to meet to discuss changing our election to a mail only election or postponing the election to a new date. Instead Vos said, “We’re united as a caucus in rejecting the governor’s request to upend the April 7th election. His last-minute scheme of a mail-in ballot election is logistically impossible and incredibly flawed. In fact, other states say it’s impossible to implement, especially two weeks before the election with countless staffing, postal and safety considerations; our local clerks are already running out of ballots and supplies.” Imagine that, a mail only ballot process impossible? If this was the case why did fifteen other states choose to either postpone or conduct mail only elections? The willful ignorance and disregard for the people of Wisconsin was on full display last Tuesday for all to see. And it was yet another example of Republicans choosing partisanship over the people of our state.
The next willing participant in explicit voter disenfranchisement was Mayor of the City of Milwaukee Tom Barrett. Barrett, along with Neil Albrecht, Executive Director of the Milwaukee Election Commission closed early voting down in the City of Milwaukee for one week, with no viable alternative for city residents to vote. When a new plan was announced, early voting was reduced to just one location, the Zeidler Municipal Building, where people waited in cars for hours to cast in person absentee ballots. Condensing early voting locations from five sites to one site made early voting more difficult for those who live across the city and for those who rely on public transit. I find it very interesting that this was done by the mayor, who was also a candidate. Seeing as though he closed the Midtown early voting location after entering it illegally to “check on things”; it should be noted that during its open period Midtown was the highest performing early vote center and is situated in a predominately African American community.
This suppression effort was compounded by the fact that the City of Milwaukee only had five voting locations for a city that has nearly 600,000 residents while the City of Madison had sixty-six polling locations and only has 255,000 residents. I was not a math teacher, but I know that arithmetic doesn’t work.
So, I hope you can understand why I prayed the prayer I did that day. It was because the people of Wisconsin were grossly mistreated at every turn. As I looked at the long and winding lines of individuals waiting to cast their ballots I was reminded of the scenes from South Africa’s first free election in 1994, when people waited in line for three days to cast a ballot. I remembered the photographs of black voters marching together to the court house to cast ballots in the Jim Crow-era South. While many of them were met with dogs, water hoses, poll taxes, and literacy tests; on Tuesday, Wisconsinites were met with ill-preparation, mass confusion, voter suppression tactics and lack of compassion
So, as the hymnist asked the question, “Must Jesus bear this cross alone and all the world go free?” I am reminded of the second line that says, “There’s a cross for everyone and a cross for me”—Vos, Fitzgerald, Barrett and Albrecht, there are crosses to bear for you as well. You will have to answer for the roles you played in suppressing the vote of the people of Wisconsin. No matter what the results are, just know we see you, and we will never forget.