Ruth Conniff
Op Ed

The War Over Democracy Isn’t Over

Both nationally and in Wisconsin there will be more attempts to undermine elections.

By , Wisconsin Examiner - Dec 4th, 2022 10:38 am
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Let’s celebrate the good news: When the Republican chair of the Wisconsin Elections Commission quietly certified the results of the 2022 election, the Big Lie fizzled, along with doomsday scenarios involving GOP candidates refusing to accept the results and armed militia members waging a campaign of intimidation — or worse — against voters.

We survived the midterm elections of 2022 without any of the truly awful predictions of disaster coming to pass. And Republicans’ poor showing — especially by Trump-endorsed, Big Lie candidates like failed GOP gubernatorial contender Tim Michels — seems to have dampened GOP politicians’ enthusiasm for the bullying, insurrectionist politics that has recently become the Republican brand.

The election basically reconfirmed the status quo. We still have divided government in Wisconsin, with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and a gerrymandered Republican majority in the Legislature. Nationwide, a politically polarized electorate installed a (barely) GOP-controlled House and returned a Democratic-led Senate.

The Wisconsin Legislature’s most prominent election denier, Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), continues to demand that state elections commissioners fork over every state voter’s personal information, on the theory that by reviewing the names and contact information of every single Wisconsin voter she can finally prove that our state’s elections are plagued by “massive fraud.” As Henry Redman reports, commissioners deadlocked on Brandtjen’s cumbersome request, and some wondered aloud why they should trust Brandtjen with information they are required by law to keep confidential when her own party has kicked her out of its closed caucus meetings, having labeled her untrustworthy?

Brandtjen’s stock crashed after she supported the Trump-backed Big Lie proponent who challenged Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, the most powerful Republican in the state.

Vos emerged victorious and, after wasting months and $1 million of taxpayer dollars on a bogus “investigation” of election fraud to appease Donald Trump, now appears to be washing his hands of the whole thing and embracing rationality.

Vos was literally the last witness to testify before the Jan 6 committee this week. He changed his mind about testifying after filing a lawsuit to try to block the Congressional subpoena. His decision to cooperate came as Trump’s troubles mount, and — after months of torturing Vos for telling the truth, that the Legislature did not have the power to withdraw Wisconsin’s electoral votes for Joe Biden — Trump is watching his power decline.

Vos is a survivor. But neither Trumpism nor the existential threats to U.S. democracy are over. Even as the leaders of the Oath Keepers were convicted this week on charges of seditious conspiracy for their role in the Jan. 6 insurrection, House Minority Leader (and prospective Speaker) Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was promising to cast doubt on the results of the Jan. 6 investigation with a new, Republican-run investigation of the investigators designed to muddy the waters and refocus blame.

Even though the Trumpists are in the doghouse and the knives are out in Washington, where McCarthy, if he manages to win the leadership election, will struggle to control his slim and fractious majority, our flirtation with authoritarianism is not behind us.

In Arizona, the refusal of Republican election officials in one county to certify the results of the 2022 election marks a new low in Big Lie tactics.

Here in Wisconsin, a lawsuit by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty targets the city clerk in Racine and the Wisconsin Elections Commission, arguing that elections officials illegally allowed in-person absentee voting to take place at unauthorized locations including a mobile voting van — as if making it easier for people to vote were a dangerous offense.

Voter suppression measures vetoed by Gov. Evers could come up again in the new legislative session. And, depending on how a major U.S. Supreme Court case that begins next week goes, they could pose more of a threat than ever.

On Dec. 7 the Court will hear oral arguments in Moore v. Harper — a case that hinges on the fringe “independent state legislature” theory that grants state legislatures the sole state authority to set rules for federal elections. If the Court upholds North Carolina legislators’ argument that the state supreme court has no authority to overturn their gerrymandered map, the implications for Wisconsin are dire.

Not only will the hope of overturning Wisconsin’s hyperpartisan gerrymander fade, just as an April election which could change the ideological tilt of our state supreme court raises exactly that possibility, the gerrymandered Legislature could also be emboldened to push through anti-voting-rights bills on a legal theory that denies the governor’s authority to veto them.

Just in time for the 2024 presidential election, Wisconsin Republicans who sent fake electoral ballots for Trump to Washington in 2020 could lean on the independent legislature theory to argue that it’s their right to impose their own slate of presidential electors on the state, contrary to the will of the voters.

One of the top priorities for Congress in the lame duck should be to pass a law that makes it clear the independent state legislature theory is bunk, codifying the long-held understanding that legislatures’ decisions are subject to review and approval by the executive and judicial branches of state government.

Otherwise, the future will be all up to Vos — a savvy politician with a keen sense of how to hold onto power by tacking with the political winds.

Ruth Conniff, Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner.

The war on democracy isn’t over was originally published by the Wisconsin Examiner.

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