The Pulse

Update from Wisconsin: Election 2020 is finally over

By: - December 15, 2020 10:42 am
North Carolina electors gathered yesterday in the State Capitol Building. Photo courtesy of David Delk

Trump and the GOP fail to subvert the will of the voters

The Electoral College vote affirming the election of Joe Biden as the next president of the United States made official what we’ve known since early November — that Biden won and President Donald Trump lost.

But Trump turned what should have been a smooth transition into an agonizing fight. Republicans at both the state and national levels joined him in denying the clear results and pushing lawsuits, hearings, and protest rallies to carry the message that Biden’s win was not legitimate and the U.S. election process cannot be trusted. 

The GOP has led us into dark, dangerous, unprecedented political terrain. Only because the margin was so clear did the Republicans fail in their efforts to subvert the will of the voters. If Trump had lost by fewer votes in Wisconsin and elsewhere you can bet his campaign lawyers and his many GOP enablers would have tried to take their effort to steal the election all the way to the hoop.

As it is, they’ve allowed partisanship to poison Americans’ sense of fair play, showed that they are willing to throw away our shared set of rules and have undermined the bedrock principle of a peaceful transfer of power. It’s not just Trump and his buffoonish lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani who are willing to cheat, lie, and throw anything at the wall to see if it might stick. It’s also Wisconsin’s Republican officials on the Elections Commission and in the Legislature, which ran a ridiculously one-sided hearing on Friday to air baseless claims of voter fraud and wrongdoing by Wisconsin’s election clerks. Rep. Ron Tusler (R-Appleton), the chair of the committee that held those hearings, still won’t admit Trump lost. Most ominously, as my colleague Melanie Conklin reports, Republican legislators are seeking input from partisan “poll watchers” on rigging future elections.

As Justice Jill Karofsky put it during the Trump campaign’s oral arguments before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the Republican attack on votes in Dane and Milwaukee counties, and their attempt to change election rules after the fact, amounted to not just “seeding, but watering and nurturing doubt about a legitimate election.”

Long after Trump is finally escorted from the White House we will continue to reap the poisonous fruits of that effort.

On the bright side, Karofsky’s win in April’s “pandemic election” made Monday’s decision possible. In that election voters rejected not just Karofsky’s opponent, conservative former Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelley, but also, symbolically, GOP legislators’ efforts to use the pandemic as a tool for voter suppression, as they shut down absentee voting options and forced people to go to the polls. The voter backlash that fueled Karofsky’s win changed the balance on the Court, turning principled conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn into a swing vote who has separated himself from the Court’s partisan hacks, repeatedly joining the Court’s three liberals to deliver 4-3 decisions rejecting Republican election shenanigans.

Monday was a busy day in Wisconsin, as Trump made his last stand here. We were the only state in the union to miss the safe harbor deadline for choosing electors, thanks to Trump’s post-recount lawsuit. There was still some doubt about whether our electors would be allowed to meet right up until an hour before the noon deadline. But at 11 a.m. on Monday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued its ruling rejecting the Trump campaign’s lawsuit and the state’s 10 presidential electors met in the Capitol to declare that Joe Biden was the winner.

Never has a dull, ministerial proceeding to ratify a known conclusion generated so much tension. 

“Can you imagine watching this on Wisconsin Eye? [the public affairs network that broadcasts from the Capitol]” Gov. Tony Evers joked as he sat in a silent chamber, waiting for the 10 electoral votes to be officially counted. In fact, the whole world was watching as our electors and those in other swing states finally got the election across the finish line. 

At least Evers and the Democratic officials casting their votes were able to meet in the Capitol. In Michigan, electors had to meet in a separate, secure location, because of credible threats of violence by Trump supporters convinced that they were “stealing” the presidency for Biden.

This is what Republicans have wrought.

And they’re not done yet. This week, on Wednesday, our own Sen. Ron Johnson will hold hearings into conspiracy theories about election fraud in Washington, D.C. Johnson claims he is “trying to restore confidence in the system” — the opposite of what he is, in fact, doing. “We need to change the laws or enforce laws so this doesn’t happen in the future,” Johnson told CNN. In other words, Republicans plan to use the doubts they are sowing by pedaling conspiracy theories about nonexistent election fraud to put in place higher barriers to voting so they can try to keep out people who are likely to vote for Democrats. 

As Matt Rothschild writes, we need to do more than hope for the restoration of our democracy. We need to join together and fight like hell for it.

Ruth Conniff is the editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner, which first published this commentary.

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Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner, part of the States Newsroom network. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC.