“It has long been a grave question whether any government, not too strong for the liberties of its people, can be strong enough to maintain its own existence in great emergencies. The election was a necessity. We cannot have free government without elections. And if the rebellion could force us to forgo or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us.”
- March 4, 1861: Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as President of the United States.
- April 12, 1861: After merely a month after being elected, the Confederates bombarded Union soldiers at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, marking the start of the infamous Civil War.
- General McClellan was nominated by the Democrats to run against Abraham Lincoln in the 1864 U.S. presidential election.
- November 8, 1864: The Union ticket, now the Republican ticket, won 55% of the popular vote—2.2 million to 1.8 million. Electoral college results: 212 to 21. Lincoln won 80% of the veteran vote…against a famed general still on active duty.
Application for this week
On April 6, 2020: On the day before Wisconsin’s Primary election, Governor Evers signed an executive order postponing the election until June 9. Wisconsin Republicans immediately challenged the governor’s ruling in court, and the state Supreme Court later overturned Evers’s emergency order in a 4-2 ruling.
A federal judge had extended the absentee voting deadline by a week to allow for the high demand for absentee ballots. Wisconsin Republicans challenged that ruling, arguing that only ballots that are received by Tuesday should be counted.
In a 5-4 vote along ideological lines, the conservative justices in the Supreme Court sided with Republican state lawmakers by halting the lower court order to extend absentee voting to April 13, a measure that would have expanded options for avoiding in-person voting amid the coronavirus pandemic.
So, what would Lincoln do?
I believe Abraham Lincoln would have carefully gathered the facts, identified missteps, and call the plays as he saw them. On one hand, it is understandable to pivot to an all-mail ballot to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. On the flip side, the two last ditch efforts, on the part of Democrats, only displayed disorganization, a lack of preparedness, and negligence in foresight.
Why do I believe this?
Governor Evers had previously said that he didn’t have the power to change the election without violating state law. However, on the eve of the election, his party turned on him due largely to their own lack of preparation. He, then, made the decision to disregard state law and the district court’s resolution worked a significant change in election rules. This ran afoul of Supreme Court precedent, particularly the 2006 Purcell v. Gonzalez decision, which instructed lower federal courts to resist altering rules on the eve of an election.