Friday, May 5, 2023

Clearer Rules Governing Election Observation in Wisconsin Are Needed to Enhance Public Confidence in Our Free and Fair Elections

For release: Friday - May 5, 2023


  Image: AP Photo / Observer at polling location 

CC/WI Working on WEC Advisory Committee to Formulate Rules

Election observers play an important and vital role in Wisconsin because they can serve as the eyes and ears of the public in the exercise of one of our most fundamental civic duties and rights as citizens – the right to have our voices heard and our ballots counted in free and fair elections. Election observation can serve to provide public confirmation of the validity and integrity of the democratic process by which citizens choose their elected representatives and other officials and help decide public policy matters that affect every-day life.
 

In recent years, a deepening partisan divide in our nation and state and the polarization of our politics, combined with the closeness of many elections, have made election observation by citizens more popular. While the interest in observing has grown over the past several election cycles, the lack of clear rules governing the conduct and behavior of citizen observers at polling places has sometimes led to confusion and disagreements. Clear rules from the WEC will help protect voting rights, help observers be able to better cooperate with election officials, and work for the benefit of the observers themselves while also preserving and enhancing access to the election process and help improve transparency, security, and confidence in Wisconsin’s elections.
 

Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) unanimously decided that clearer administrative rules overseeing the election observer system in the state were desirable and necessary to help alleviate further misunderstanding and to promote greater public confidence in the election process in future elections.
 

Common Cause Wisconsin (CC/WI) was invited by the Wisconsin Elections Commission to join the advisory committee on election observation that convened on March 8th following comments CC/WI submitted to WEC in February. Erin Grunze represented CC/WI at the advisory committee meeting. Then, at last week’s regularly scheduled WEC meeting, WEC commissioners were able to review and discuss the details about the information provided by the members of the advisory committee. Additionally, CC/WI provided WEC with further comments and clarifications about the role of the election observer for last week’s meeting.
 

CC/WI has been a partner on Election Protection programs in Wisconsin for over the past ten years. Election Protection is important in order to conduct and maintain free and fair elections, especially in the face of more anti-voter laws and the additional barriers voters must now face to accessible elections. Election Protection programs and volunteers help voters navigate the voting process and ensure that voters can cast their ballots without obstruction, confusion, or intimidation. As a part of Election Protection programs in Wisconsin, CC/WI has recruited volunteer observers for several election cycles to be trained as election observers by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin for Election Day.
 

Developing clear rules and guidance are challenging tasks because the role of the election observer is directed and governed by state statutes and their observer role should not take precedence or be prioritized over the right and ability of the voter to be able to cast their vote unimpeded and with confidentiality and privacy. WEC needs to help promulgate rules that are specific about what election observers can do, where they can be positioned, and how they can interact with voters, poll workers and the chief inspectors at each polling place while respecting and minding the privacy and confidentiality voters have the right to deserve and expect. In addition, election officials need to be able to do their jobs to keep the election process moving smoothly and should not be impeded or disrupted by election observers. There is a precise balance that needs to be found between the observers, election officials, and voters. Voter confidence in the process and public confidence in our elections will increase only when there are clear standards that protect the rights of voters, ensure reasonable access for observers, and protect election workers. As part of the advisory committee, CC/WI is helping to shape the rules that will guide election observers to carry out their tasks at polling locations. 
 

At last Friday’s WEC meeting, the commissioners voted unanimously to direct the WEC staff to draft an outline of rules for the advisory committee to provide recommendations and feedback to the six commissioners so they can prepare a final draft for the Legislature’s Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules to consider and enact in time for the rules to take effect in 2024. CC/WI looks forward to continuing our participation in this important process and wanted to inform you about the critical work being done to instill greater public confidence in the election process in Wisconsin.
 

Thank you for your continued support for free and fair elections and for the preservation and enhancement of our democracy.

 

Forward!

Jay Heck


--------------------------

Jay Heck
608/256-2686 (office)
608/512-9363 (cell)

Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 Johnson St, Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703
www.commoncausewisconsin.org

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Sunday, April 30, 2023

In The News - April 2023



The Most Significant Election of 2023 with Jay Heck
April 14, 2023 - Greg Stensland, Between the Lines, WFDL fm radio

Swing-State Flip Gives Democrats Path to Sue on Abortion, Voting
April 5, 2023 - Alex Ebert, Bloomberg Law

The Spring Election with Jay Heck
April 3, 2023 - Greg Stensland, Between the Lines, WFDL fm radio

How Wisconsin Became Wild West of Campaign Spending
April 3, 2023 - Steven Walters, Urban Milwaukee

WI Supreme Court Race: Record Spending Leads to Reform Calls
April 3, 2023 - Mike Moen, Public News Service

'Avalanche' Of Cash Sets Record In Wis. High Court Race
April 3, 2023 - Jack Karp, Law 360

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Friday, April 21, 2023

Bipartisan Support for Strengthening State Elections Should Be Possible and Achievable in Wisconsin’s 2023-25 Biennium Budget

For release: Friday - April 21, 2023



  Image The Wisconsin Budget Logo 

Testimony of Jay Heck
Executive Director of Common Cause in Wisconsin

Before the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance

April 26, 2023
Lakeland Union High School – Minocqua, WI

(A copy of this testimony was delivered to the Members of the Joint Committee on Finance in advance of the public hearing on the state budget on April 26th.)

 

Chairs Born, Marklein and Members of the Committee,


I’m Jay Heck, the executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI) – the state’s largest non-partisan citizen’s political reform advocacy organization with more than 8,000 members and activists in every county and corner in Wisconsin. We are pleased to be able to share our thoughts with the members of the Joint Committee on Finance for your consideration as you construct the 2023-25 biennium budget.


Wisconsinites from across the ideological spectrum should be able to agree that our election process needs to be continually improved and strengthened in order to ensure that all eligible Wisconsinites will be able to participate in and have full confidence in our state’s long tradition of free and fair elections. To that end, the state agency that oversees elections, the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) deserves enhanced support to be able to continue to do its critical and vitally important job.


Last Summer, all six WEC Commissioners – Republicans and Democrats – supported a proposal to add ten full time staff members to WEC to handle an increasingly heavy workload, including an exponential increase in public records requests and inquiries about election practices and procedures during the last couple of years. In order for the WEC to be able to function the way the Wisconsin Legislature intended and the voters of Wisconsin have every right to expect it to, additional resources are necessary to meet these demands and for public confidence in our elections to be maintained and enhanced.


Gov. Tony Evers included the WEC funding request in his February budget proposal through the creation of the Office of Election Transparency and Budget within the WEC. The $2 million funding request (over the biennium) would also provide resources to improve audits on voting equipment, databases, and for the possible hiring of an outside consultant to review information for things such as voter lists. The WEC needs the necessary resources to meet the increased demands on their staff and to their workloads so that voters will have confidence in state elections.


CC/WI also strongly supports these other proposals in Gov. Evers’ budget which should be able to receive strong bipartisan support:

  • Enabling WEC to be able to reimburse counties and municipalities for costs incurred in the administration of special primary and general elections through a GPR sum sufficient appropriation.
  • Explicitly permit WEC training funds to be used to train municipal and county clerks on all aspects of election administration in addition to voter ID requirements.
  • Providing $400,000 for municipalities to purchase Badger Books which are an electronic version of the state voter list used to check in voters, process election day voter registrations and record absentee voter participation.
  • Modifying voter Identification requirements to comply with current court rulings and requiring the University of Wisconsin System and the Wisconsin Technical College System to issue identification cards that meet the revised requirements.
  • Providing $172,700 for the WEC to work with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) to implement automatic voter registration. WisDOT would be appropriated $349,000 in FY2023-24 to address one-time costs. “Red” states such as Georgia and West Virginia as well as our neighboring states of Michigan and Illinois have AVR. It is time Wisconsin voters do too.


All of these measures would help every voter in Wisconsin and merit the support of the members of this committee and of all legislators, regardless of political party affiliation. Our democracy and representative state government can exist only if our election system is free, fair and accessible to all Wisconsinites who are eligible to vote. We hope that the Joint Committee on Finance and the Wisconsin Legislature can set partisan differences aside and work with Gov. Evers to embrace and implement these improvements to our election system in Wisconsin. This state was once considered the model for free and fair elections in the nation. We can begin to move once again towards that exalted status by working together to support these measures.


Thank you.

--------------------------

Jay Heck
608/256-2686 (office)
608/512-9363 (cell)

Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 Johnson St, Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703
www.commoncausewisconsin.org

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Thursday, April 13, 2023

Wisconsin After the Most Significant Election of 2023 in the Entire Nation

For release: Thursday - April 13, 2023


  Image Graphic Map of Wisconsin by The Washington Post 

Will We Move Forward, Backwards or More of the Same?

The April 4th State Supreme Court election in Wisconsin was portrayed in the national media and by political experts across the ideological spectrum as the most important and consequential election in the United States during all of this year. Given our state’s key position as one of the country’s most closely divided and hotly contested “battleground” states and the ramifications that the outcome of the election could have both nationally and -- even more critically -- for the lives of Wisconsinites, the national hype for this contest for ideological control of the State Supreme Court was justified and not over the top. It was by any measure, monumentally significant. 

Perhaps the most surprising outcome was the very big margin of victory -- better than 55 to 45 percent -- and over 200,000 votes more for Milwaukee Judge Janet Protasiewicz over former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly out of over 1.8 million votes cast. It was the second such massive repudiation of Kelly in the last three years. In 2020 Kelly was decisively ousted from the state’s highest court by current Justice Jill Karofsky of Madison by a similar double digit point margin. 

Voter turnout was very high and unprecedented for an April “off year” election in Wisconsin with nearly 40 percent of all eligible to vote casting ballots. Considering all of the roadblocks to voting both in person and by absentee ballot that have been erected by partisans seeking political advantage over the past dozen years, this very high voter turnout level was truly remarkable. And encouraging! Imagine how many more Wisconsinites could have their voices heard and their votes counted if we were still like our neighboring state of Minnesota, where voter suppression measures such as photo ID and other restrictions have been blocked. Fifteen years ago voter turnout in Wisconsin was on par with Minnesota’s, which has long been the highest in the nation. Now, we lag far behind the Gopher state. 

Voting Rights: A new, pro-democracy majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court may mean we can begin to move back toward where this state was prior to 2011 when the far reaching assault on free and fair elections was launched here. For example, conservatives on the court just last July in a 4 to 3 decision voted to senselessly eliminate the use of all of the more than 500 secure drop boxes across the state to which voters could more conveniently return their absentee ballots during the 2020 election and previous elections. And that same 4 to 3 conservative majority decided that election clerks would no longer be able to make common sense corrections to the addresses of witnesses who signed absentee ballots, likely resulting in many such ballots not being counted in the election. And that’s only the beginning of many such measures imposed on Wisconsin voters over the years designed to gain political advantage by making voting more difficult, burdensome and less accessible for hundreds of thousands of voters, particularly if they were judged to be more supportive of the political party not in power in Wisconsin. 

Redistricting Reform: Judge Protasiewicz, during her campaign for the Supreme Court, stated the obvious when asked about the partisan gerrymandering of Wisconsin state legislative districts in 2011 and then again in 2021-22. She said she believed that the voting maps designed in secret and rammed through the GOP-controlled Legislature along straight party lines were “rigged.” So did three other current justices on the court (Ann Walsh BradleyRebecca Dallet and Jill Karofsy) when the four conservatives on the court (Annette ZieglerPatience RoggensackRebecca Bradley and Brian Hagedorn) voted 4 to 3 to accept only voting maps that adhered to a legally dubious “least change” standard from the heavily gerrymandered maps of 2011. The court conservatives adopted the even more politically partisan gerrymandered Republican state legislative maps engineered by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester).  But now, that result can, must and will be challenged beginning this August when Protasiewicz assumes office. 

According to the legal experts and pro-democracy attorneys at Law Forward, the legal challenge that will be filed shortly after August 1st will be based on the argument that the partisan GOP gerrymander of 2021-22 (and presumably 2011 as well) violated the Wisconsin Constitution in the way that it did not uphold the right of state voters to have a “free and fair (state) government” and because of the way “gerrymandered maps have consolidated power within a legislative body that is not accountable to the voters, and is not a free and fair government.” 

CC/WI has expressed a willingness to actively participate in this important litigation in whatever way is most useful and helpful to assist and elevate this critically important legal challenge. As the state’s largest non-partisan citizen reform advocacy organization with more than 12,000 members and activists in every county and corner of Wisconsin and 52 years of experience and expertise in this area, we are uniquely equipped to be part of this incredible opportunity to move Wisconsin toward fair voting maps that reflect the will of the voters of this state instead of the unfair, undemocratic and ultimately un-American vision and control of our state by likes of Robin Vos, Scott Walker and a host of other politicians who have not hesitated to do anything and everything to exercise raw partisan political power. 

Finally, beginning in August, we have an opportunity to begin to “tear down the wall” that has been constructed over the past dozen years in Wisconsin! 

In another victory for democracy and against partisan gerrymandering – this time at the grass-roots level (which is where all such battles are truly won) democracy activists in Juneau County, including long time CC/WI member, Dr. Leon Radant of Mauston, organized themselves, contacted their elected county supervisors on the board there and the board passed a resolution by a resounding 17 to 4 vote in support of having the Wisconsin Legislature adopt a non-partisan redistricting process (like our neighboring state of Iowa’s). This brings to 56, the number of Wisconsin’s 72 counties that have passed such resolutions. Radant and his allies are now seeking to have an advisory referendum question on the issue placed on the ballot in a future election where it would undoubtedly pass overwhelmingly, as it has every such time it has been on any county (red or blue) ballot – 32 times. This is just a spectacular achievement by Juneau County citizen activists and should provide encouragement to every Wisconsinite! 

Campaign Finance: The Protasiewicz – Kelly contest was far and away the most expensive state supreme court election in American history with upwards of $42 million spent. How could this be possible in only the 20th most populous state in the Union and with so-called “non partisan” elections for the state supreme court? The answer is that spending limits, public financing, transparency and prohibitions on allowing the corrupting influence of money in all of our state’s elections were deliberately and systematically stripped from our law in Wisconsin over the past 12 years. In interviews with the media conducted right before the election, CC/WI explained exactly what happened here and here. Campaign finance laws, spending limits, disclosure and transparency – all areas in which Wisconsin used to shine and lead the nation, have all been eviscerated and need to be constructed from scratch. This can and should be done, not just in Wisconsin but nationally as well. 

Is there a better way to select judges in Wisconsin? That has been looked at in our state in the past and it is time to do so again. The Brennan Center for Justice has these suggestions

Support for CC/WI: Finally, CC/WI wants to express its profound gratitude to Delta Beer Lab in Madison for their recent and amazingly generous contribution of just shy of $5,000 to CC/WI! This was a result of their reaching out to us and collaborating during the month of March on elevating and educating Wisconsin voters about the urgent need to end partisan gerrymandering and the necessity to participate in the April 4th Supreme Court election. The contribution was a result of tips collected during March and events, including a really wonderful and well attended “town hall meeting” at Delta on March 30th. Iuscely Flores, of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, joined the event with an update on the grassroots activism that continues to grow across the state in support of fair maps and then led the participants in an energizing game of Redistricting LoterĂ­a. The town hall event was incredibly lively and was one of the best such events I have had the privilege of being part of in my 27 years at CC/WI. Thanks so much to Pio, Andrew and Speedy at Delta for all of the amazing work they do to support democracy. And for their fantastic beer! What could be more Wisconsin than that? 

In sum, is Wisconsin moving forward, backwards or will it stay the same?  As a result of the April 4th election and after the active participation in our political process of so many of you who care and act to make our state a better place to live in, we can say we are definitely moving FORWARD!  We have a long way to go but we are, finally, moving in the right direction. 

Thank you and let’s keep it up. On Wisconsin!
 

Jay Heck

Common Cause Wisconsin Director


--------------------------

Jay Heck
608/256-2686 (office)
608/512-9363 (cell)

Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 Johnson St, Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703
www.commoncausewisconsin.org

Read More...