If you’ve been listening to the mainstream media, you’ve probably heard that Wisconsin Republicans did everything in their power to rig the spring election and that it backfired when liberal Judge Jill Karofsky beat incumbent conservative Justice Daniel Kelly for a seat on the state Supreme Court. What you won’t hear from the MSM is all the Democrats’ behind-the-scenes efforts to suppress conservative voters.
The media machine predictably did Democrats’ bidding. “Republicans tried to suppress the vote in Wisconsin. It backfired,” read a headline in The Guardian. One grossly partisan article in the politics section of the New York Times explained “Why Wisconsin Republicans Insisted on an Election in a Pandemic.” Both the Washington Post and Rolling Stone claimed Republicans “exploited” the pandemic to “grab power” and “undercut democracy,” respectively.
After the Republican Party of Wisconsin suggested that actually Democrats had rigged the election, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough cracked up on air, calling the state GOP “stupid,” and saying Republicans “forced people to go out and vote in the middle of a pandemic, believing that it would lower turnout and would elect a Republican so they could purge voter rolls.”
A liberal challenger upset a Trump-backed incumbent for a Wisconsin Supreme Court seat after Republicans pushed to hold elections amid the coronavirus pandemic https://t.co/3cEMGt9eyW
— The New York Times (@nytimes) April 14, 2020
But what if Democrats did tilt the election? Mounting evidence suggests that’s the case. The Democrat-driven timeline shows how the left swung the door wide open for liberal voters to cast their ballots early, while slamming it shut on conservative voters in the eleventh hour.
The prevailing election narrative addresses only the final step in a long train of political maneuvers. Conservatives suppressed voters, the story goes, because Republican leadership refused to move the election at Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ request and because conservative courts disenfranchised voters by ruling that absentee ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, April 7, overturning a lower court decision that ballots could be returned until April 13. According to the media, Republicans forced voters to choose either their safety or their right to vote. But the partisanship began long before April 6.
“The Supreme Court said that ballots need to be postmarked by April 7, but you had the Milwaukee Election Commission allowing ballots in after April 7,” Republican Party of Wisconsin Executive Director Mark Jefferson told The Federalist. “If they didn’t have a postmark, they would allow them beyond that date, even if they had no idea when the ballots were actually mailed. So in the liberal municipalities, you see a lot more lax enforcement,” but that isn’t true in conservative areas, he said.
The Milwaukee Election Commission voted Monday to accept at least 390 absentee ballots that had illegible postmarks, postmarks with no date, or no postmark at all.
Jefferson said he thinks mail-in voting is a problem that equally affects both sides by “eroding everyone’s confidence in the system. … We’ve heard a lot of stories this cycle of people who didn’t get ballots mailed to them even though they had signed up and turned in applications. We heard from people who didn’t get a chance to mail them back in time.” According to the Supreme Court opinion, 1.2 million Wisconsin voters had requested and received absentee ballots, approximately five times as many people as requested absentee ballots in the 2016 spring election.
Ample Opportunities To Vote in Dem Strongholds
While it isn’t clear that early voting actually increases overall voter turnout — it may actually reduce it — early voting favors Democrats. In Wisconsin, a federal judge ruled in 2018 that a statewide two-week cap on early, in-person voting was unconstitutional, so early voting opportunities vary county to county. Urban hubs such as Milwaukee and Dane County, where Madison is located, are Democratic strongholds and are equipped with ample resources and staff to begin early voting much sooner than rural, conservative parts of the state.
While media lamented that due to the pandemic and GOP power-grab, Milwaukee Election-Day polling locations decreased from 180 to only five, what they didn’t tell you is that Milwaukee and Madison had opened early voting a week and a half before the rest of the state, giving Democrats plenty of time to garner ballots. Further, it became clear Milwaukee’s sparse polling issue stemmed from poor planning and communication rather than GOP suppression; through good preparation, Madison successfully opened 66 locations. The more than 2,400 National Guard members available to help with staffing shortages would have allowed for polling to remain open if Wisconsin had competent leadership.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers called in the National Guard on April 1. According to City of Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Neil Albrecht, who found out about the Guard only through media reports, it was “too little, too late.” In Green Bay, for instance, clerks turned down extra assistance from Guard members because the city wasn’t aware the extra hands would be available until after it had already narrowed its 31 polling locations to two.
Had Evers called for backup sooner — such as back in March when he said, “Moving this date is not going to solve the problem,” and urged absentee voting while insisting, “The bottom line is it is going to be on April 7” — most of the polling mess would have been avoided. MSM, meanwhile, panned long lines in Milwaukee and pointed the finger at Republicans for making people risk their safety to exercise their right to vote.
A Push for All Mail-In Voting
This followed another push from Evers to mail a ballot to every registered voter in what would have been the perfect storm for rampant fraud: out-of-date voter rolls, a waived witness signature requirement, and loosely defined “indefinite confinement.” Not to mention, extending the voting deadline to April 13 would have opened the door for a week of ballot harvesting.
March 27, less than two weeks before the election, Evers called on the state legislature to send a ballot to every registered voter. Republican lawmakers rejected the idea, saying it was impossible to do so with such short notice. Election officials concurred, saying they didn’t even have enough ballots.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called Evers’ move a “last-minute scheme” that is “logistically impossible and incredibly flawed,” saying it is a “statewide invitation for voter fraud.”
“More than 100,000 votes have already been cast, and 600,000 additional absentee ballots have been sent out, meaning that a large number of voters could receive two ballots,” Vos said. “And because the voter rolls are not updated, ballots would go to thousands of people who may have moved. It was careless and reckless for Gov. Evers to even make this suggestion.”
Meanwhile, in Milwaukee and Madison, clerks were enabling absentee voters to bypass voter ID laws through a loose interpretation of “indefinite confinement,” a designation for absentee voters whose immobility prevents them from presenting proper legal documents. Claiming indefinite confinement waives the photo identification requirement.
Voters are “going to follow the governor’s [stay-at-home] order and the law, and now they’re incapable of exercising their right to vote, and that’s what this [indefinitely confinement] law is designed for,” said Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson.
Researchers at the Legislative Reference Bureau, however, said the clerks’ advice to apply indefinite confinement amid the pandemic was illegal, because the governor’s coronavirus order still allows people to leave their homes.
“The Dane Country clerk and the Milwaukee County Clerk concluded that because of coronavirus, every single person was indefinitely confined,” Republican Party of Wisconsin Chairman Andrew Hitt told The Federalist. “We’ve seen those indefinite confinement numbers go from the high 60,000s, to 180,000 people in Wisconsin.”
To make matters worse, after self-selecting as “indefinitely confined,” voters automatically retain that status, meaning this uptick in absentee voters who bypass ID requirements will likely affect future elections. The Wisconsin Democratic Party and Evers’ office did not respond to a request for comment on the indefinite confinement issue.
Still pushing for an all-mail spring election despite time constraints and a lack of resources, on April 3, the Friday before the election, Evers issued an executive order officially calling on the state legislature not only to move mail-only voting, but to waive the requirement for a witness signature on ballots, citing social distancing guidelines. The legislature gaveled in and out of session, refusing to upend the election on such short notice.
“Democrats were working hard to bank as many votes early as possible — getting rid of photo ID, getting rid of proof of residency, getting rid of signature requirements — and then after they banked all those votes, they tried to cancel in-person voting,” Hitt said. “All of that plays to their favor. And then because of all the confusion with lawsuits and whether the election was on or off, we really saw … our voters were silenced. … We saw suppression on our side.”
Evers’ Flip-Flopping Game
The “evil GOP” media narrative becomes laughable with even a cursory look at a timeline of Evers’ election decisions, leading to his colossal flip-flop less than 24 hours before polls were set to open, when he issued an executive order to postpone the election to June 9.
While other states were taking prudent measures to postpone their spring elections, Evers resisted. Louisiana began taking measures March 13 to move its election from April 4 to June. On March 16, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear postponed the state’s election from May 19 to June 23. The next day, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed an order delaying the state’s April 28 primary election to June 2.
“Moving this date is not going to solve the problem,” Evers told the Associated Press March 20. “We could move it to June, [coronavirus] could be worse in June. It could be worse in May.”
And after Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine delayed his state’s spring election the day before it was scheduled to occur, Evers said he would do no such thing.
“[W]e certainly would not wait until the night before the election to make an historic decision like that,” Evers said, insisting the Wisconsin election would remain April 7, “bottom line.”
After issuing the April 3 executive order, however, Evers blamed Republican legislators for refusing to postpone. “Folks, I can’t move this election or change the rules on my own. My hands are tied,” he said in a Facebook video. “And that’s why I spoke to legislative leaders about this weeks ago. I even publicly called upon them to act. They have made it clear they are unwilling to make changes.”
We have three branches of government to ensure a system of checks and balances, and questions about our elections typically rely on all three playing a role. If I could have changed the election on my own I would have but I can’t without violating state law.
— Governor Tony Evers (@GovEvers) April 2, 2020
But no Democratic lawmakers offered any resolution to postpone the election, either. “None of the Democrats had a bill they were going to be putting forward in a special session” to move the election, a conservative operative familiar with the matter told The Federalist. “Any Dem legislator could have come forward and said, ‘Hey, here’s what I’m going to do if the Republican leadership will let us do it,’ and they didn’t do that.”
Instead, Evers and other state Democrats held out to win the messaging war. Democrats could have gone “into negotiations, saying, ‘I’m going to move it. Work with me on how to do it the right way.’ And instead [Evers] waited, waited, waited, said I don’t have legal authority, I don’t have legal authority, and then they threw it out there the day before and just dared the courts to knock them down,” the conservative operative said. “Tony Evers gets credit for trying to move the election, and Republicans get blamed for not working with him, and conservative courts get blamed for smacking it down.”
The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on why Evers decided to postpone the election.
The Hypocrisy of Democrats Calling Out ‘Voter Suppression’
The details highlighted above were not the the only examples of Democrats tilting the election in their favor.
While the Democratic presidential primary was sure to drive the left to the polls April 7 — Sen. Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race before the ballots were ever counted — Evers took steps back in October that would require voters from the rural, conservative 7th Congressional District to hit the polls twice if they wanted their voices to fully count. After Republican U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy vacated his congressional seat in September over complications with his wife’s pregnancy, Evers originally scheduled a special replacement primary for December 30, the last day of Hanukkah and the day before New Years Eve, before then postponing it to May 12. He could have aligned it with the April 7 spring election, which would have been both a better use of resources and easier for voters to exercise their right — but it also would have stirred up more conservative voters.
Even the date to which Evers wanted to move the election, June 9, showed a concern more for party interests than for public health. According to DNC rules, June 9 is the last day states may hold their presidential primaries before facing a delegate penalty.
The conservative operative familiar with the matter told The Federalist that due to the last-minute executive order stunt, news media were confused, reporting in some parts of the state that the election was off, while other outlets were reporting the election was still on.
If you got an email from Our Wisconsin Revolution saying Wisconsin’s election has been postponed… it hasn’t. pic.twitter.com/rcqYUL3W1g
— Jessie Opoien (@jessieopie) April 3, 2020
“The early voting that went on in Madison and Milwaukee for a week and a half before any of the areas that typically vote more conservative — that is just a week and a half where liberal precincts get to turn out their voters in droves in their biggest strongholds. And then you get into the thick of the election itself, and you’ve got the voter ID stuff, and you’ve got the lawsuits, and … the shifting rules and the fighting over it and everything,” the operative said. “And then you close it with the governor basically the day before the election doing nothing other than cause confusion and make it so that people in part of the state that haven’t had the chance to vote yet may think they can’t vote on election day — the people that disadvantages is conservatives because as is shown time and again election after election, conservatives turn out on Election Day.”
Don’t believe everything you read in the headlines. When it comes to voter suppression in Wisconsin, the Republican Party is hardly the one to blame.