John Blake: Voter suppression now has a white face in Wisconsin

Voters line up at Riverside High School for Wisconsin's primary election Tuesday April 7, 2020, in Milwaukee.

(CNN)Voting rights advocates have been howling in dismay since a Supreme Court decision led to thousands of Wisconsin voters going to polling stations last week during a pandemic.

But they might eventually thank the high court for inadvertently performing an act of public service.
Thousands of white voters now have a sense of what it was like to vote as a black person during the Jim Crow era. These voters risked their physical safety, their jobs -- even their lives -- just to vote.
That harrowing experience was reserved for blacks who attempted to vote in the Deep South and elsewhere during segregation.
    "No one should be forced to choose between their right to vote and their right to stay healthy," President Obama said on Twitter last week.
    Voters line up while observing social distancing at Riverside High School in Milwaukee.
    This unintentional crash course in Jim Crow may not be what most people focus on as Wisconsin announces results today from last Tuesday's primaries.
    But it may matter come November's presidential election, for several reasons.

    Voters got a taste of hypocrisy

    Empathy. It's one of those buzzwords people evoke in diversity seminars. It's why some diversity training involves role-playing. White people are placed in mock situations where they are racially profiled or prejudged.
    There are some white voters in Wisconsin who can probably skip that seminar now.
    No one is saying that the white Republicans and Supreme Court justices who pushed to hold a primary during a pandemic are racist. But their decisions may create a bitter aftertaste that would be familiar to any black voter in the Jim Crow era.
    People wait in line to vote in the primary election outside Hamilton High School in Milwaukee.
    It's that pungent sensation of hearing an election result and wondering why it was so much harder for you to vote when compared to other people.
    The city of Milwaukee has nearly 300,000 registered voters, yet its available polling places on election day were reduced from 180 to five.
    White voters stood in the same long lines as black voters. And they witnessed something else that many black voters experienced during the Jim Crow era: brazen hypocrisy.
    During Jim Crow, politicians said one thing while openly doing another. They boasted about the US being a great democracy while erecting a gauntlet of voting barriers for blacks that included poll taxes and arcane literacy tests.
    One viral image from last week's primary captures a similar disconnect.
    Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos: "There's less exposure here than you would get if you went to the grocery store ..."
    It was of Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos trying to reassure voters last Tuesday that in-person voting was "incredibly safe."
    "There's less exposure here than you would get if you went to the grocery store, or you went to Walmart, or you did any of the many things we have to do to live in the state of Wisconsin," said Vos, a Republican, during a live interview at a polling place.
    Vos made that assurance while wearing a mask, gloves and other protective gear.

    Some say it even extended to the Supreme Court

    The high court became involved in the election after Wisconsin's Democratic governor tried to delay the primary until June 9. Requests for absentee ballots were exploding because of fears over catching and spreading the coronavirus through in-person voting.
    The state had imposed a stay-at-home order in late March to minimize the spread of the virus.
    But Republicans in Wisconsin opposed efforts to delay the election because they said they wanted to protect the integrity of the voting process. The conservative majority on the Supreme Court agreed with them. In a 5-4 decision they refused to extend a deadline for absentee ballots because they said precedent discourages changing election rules so close to an election.
    Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was part of the majority in a 5-4 decision to let the vote in Wisconsin proceed.
    Critics noted that the conservative bloc on the high court made their decision from the safety of their homes instead of their court chambers. They had been on coronavirus quarantine.
    Critics also noted that before its Wisconsin decision, the Supreme Court had moved to postpone a series of highly anticipated cases that were scheduled to be heard this spring -- including one about whether lawmakers can subpoena President Trump's financial records. In delaying the hearings, the court cited the threat to its safety posed by coronavirus.