The Assault on Voting and Fair Elections
On July 20, Republican Wisconsin state legislators on the Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR), at the behest of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and State Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg), voted to suspend an emergency rule regarding common sense clerk corrections for small omissions on absentee ballot witness certificates. While this action should have no substantive effect on election administration for now-existing Wisconsin Election Commission guidance makes clear this correction process is permissible, it is yet another example of the many right-wing attacks on the ability of Wisconsinites to be able to vote and on the dedicated election clerks throughout the state who serve we, the voters.
In 2020, Republican and Democratic members of the Republican-created Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) voted unanimously, 6-0, to allow election clerks to make simple corrections to incomplete addresses of witnesses signing the outside envelopes of absentee ballots.
Clerks could not correct the voter’s information or do anything that would alter the intention or integrity of the ballot. But it made perfect sense that a clerk should be able to add the street address number if it was missing or the zip code to the witness’ address. And no one in Wisconsin disagreed until after the November 2020 election in Wisconsin. Then, former President Donald Trump and his allies launched an all-out attack on absentee votes and voters in Wisconsin and elsewhere, falsely claiming “fraud,” “ballot harvesting” and lodging other completely untrue, baseless, made-up charges with no proof, evidence or legal standing.
And because of that cowardly fear of a defeated former president, Wisconsin Republican legislative leaders and their lackeys on the rules committee moved last week to prohibit common sense absentee ballot envelope corrections or curing, as it called. This is insanity.
Why would the majority political party in the Wisconsin Legislature (due to their extreme partisan gerrymandering of state legislative districts) vote to make it more difficult for Wisconsinites to be able to vote? Or even not to have perfectly legitimate absentee ballots counted?
The answer is clear by now. Republican legislators and their conservative allies on the Wisconsin Supreme Court fear the voters, they fear democracy and they fear fair and free elections because they are still under the spell and control of Trump — who lost the 2020 election by a whopping 8 million popular votes, a decisive 306-232 Electoral College vote and Wisconsin by more than 20,500 votes. That result was confirmed by a post-election canvass, a recount and by every court, federal and state, that was brought in to rule on the outcome.
Trump, nearly two years after the fact, still will not accept his defeat and has threatened to endorse Vos’ conspiracy theorist Republican primary opponent this August if Vos doesn’t suppress voters and won’t join Trump in trying to overturn the 2020 election.
And LeMahieu, who knows better, apparently doesn’t have the backbone to stand up to Trump.
The rules committee action follows the July 8 hyper-partisan 4-3 decision by conservatives on the Wisconsin Supreme Court to prohibit the use of safe, secure voter ballot drop boxes, which have long been legal and utilized in Wisconsin as a means of safely and securely delivering absentee ballots to election clerks. Because of delays and the uncertainty of the U.S. Mail and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of secure voter drop boxes made perfect sense.
Again, Republican and Democratic election commissioners voted unanimously to accept the widespread use of the drop boxes in 2020, and there were more than 500 in use throughout 66 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. There was not a single incident or instance of a drop box being broken into, “stuffed” with “illegal” or illegitimate ballots or any problem with their use.
It was only after Trump and his subordinates like Rudy Guiliani and Sydney Powell concocted the post-election “Big Steal” lie that voter drop boxes suddenly became targets. Aided in Wisconsin by Trump apologists like Janel Brandtjen, Michael Gableman, Timothy Ramthun and goaded on by Minnesota’s “Pillow Man” Mike Lindell, voter drop boxes suddenly became evil and needed to be banned.
That was not the only damage the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative majority inflicted on voters with their misguided July 8 decision. They also made it much more difficult for voters, specifically voters with disabilities and elderly voters, to be able to return completed absentee ballots to their election clerks. They ruled that voters could not have a friend, neighbor or family member return the ballot for them. That constituted “ballot harvesting” and “voter fraud” in the view of conservatives and, apparently, a majority of the Republican Party. This makes no sense at all unless the goal is to suppress the vote in Wisconsin.
Voter suppression is precisely what all of this is about. It began in 2011, when the Republican-controlled Legislature and then-Republican Gov. Scott Walker rammed through the most extreme and restrictive voter photo ID law in the nation — surpassing states like Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina with a long history of suppressing votes. And it has continued through the 2021-22 Wisconsin legislative session with the introduction of more than two dozen measures to make voting more difficult or to further restrict voting safely by absentee ballot or in-person early voting. Fortunately, the current governor, Tony Evers, has vetoed every one of these anti-voting, anti-American hyper-partisan proposals. But he is all that stands between them, and their being enacted into law in the near future.
Republicans appear to have cynically calculated that these “ballot security” measures to suppress the vote may be harmful to some of their own voters, but that it will block more Wisconsinites who might vote for their political opponents. Republicans have targeted voters who reside in urban areas like Milwaukee, Madison, Racine and Green Bay. They have also homed in on college and university students by making it more difficult for that population to vote, even with a college-issued photo ID, than almost anywhere else in the nation.
Most cruelly, Republicans have targeted Wisconsinites with disabilities, the elderly and the poor who must rely on public transportation and don’t have or cannot easily obtain the required photo ID needed to vote in Wisconsin.
Republicans have not always behaved like this in Wisconsin. The question now is when, or even if, they will come to their senses and abandon this vicious assault on the very essence of our being as Americans, a promise that has made this state and this nation a beacon of freedom and hope in the world: our 233-year-old commitment to free and fair elections.
Since 1996 Jay Heck has been the Executive Director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, the state’s largest non-partisan citizens political reform advocacy organization with more than 12,000 members and activists. For more information call 608-256-2686 or visit commoncausewisconsin.org.