Monday, December 9, 2019

Don't overlook Wisconsin's critical Supreme Court election



For Release: Monday - December 9, 2019


By Jay Heck


Any Wisconsinite with a pulse is well aware our state is “ground zero” in the November 2020 election for president.

“As Wisconsin goes, so goes the nation,” many election prognosticators proclaim.

In 2016, Donald Trump unexpectedly carried Wisconsin by a margin of just 23,000 votes over Hillary Clinton, which guaranteed Wisconsin will be fiercely fought over next year.

Not nearly as widely known or talked about is the significance of a Wisconsin election that will be held in April 2020. A pivotal seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court is up for grabs April 7, and the outcome could be a bellwether for the presidential race in Wisconsin later in the fall.

Perhaps more important, the outcome of the spring Wisconsin Supreme Court election could determine the direction this state takes for the decade ahead — and whether big, special-interest money will continue to dictate the outcome of high court elections and court decisions.

It was not always so. Until 2007, spring elections for the state Supreme Court were relatively tame, and most decidedly nonpartisan affairs. That was because judges — especially justices on the highest state court — were considered to be nonpartisan and impartial arbiters of the law, not of ideology. Judges in Wisconsin run for election with no political party affiliation.

But then deep-pocketed special-interest groups began to participate in state Supreme Court elections, spending hundreds of thousands — even millions — of dollars, primarily on negative media ads attacking candidates they opposed.

The problem grew, in part, after the failure in 2009 of a majority of the court to adopt a proposal put forth by Justice N. Patrick Crooks. He wanted to require recusal if a justice had received substantial election support from one of the parties in the case before the high court. Recusal means the judge would not participate in deciding a case because of a potential conflict of interest.

This error was compounded in 2010. A majority of the court adopted what was essentially a non-recusal rule written and accepted, apparently verbatim, from two of the state’s largest business organizations: Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and the Wisconsin Realtors Association.

Our state Supreme Court also has failed to adopt a sensible and stronger recusal rule at the explicit invitation of the U.S. Supreme Court in the wake of its landmark 2009 Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Company decision.

As a result, our state currently ranks 47th of 50 states in terms of the strength of its recusal rules, according to a survey cited by retired Wisconsin jurists in 2017. That is shocking and unacceptable.

Further, strong recusal rules are even more necessary in the aftermath of the court’s 2015 decision to strike down Wisconsin law that had prohibited campaign coordination between candidate campaigns with outside special interest groups. These groups spend vast sums of money engaging in non-express or “phony” issue advocacy, with a clear intent to influence the outcome of elections.

That controversial decision exceeded even the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United v. F.E.C. decision in allowing coordination between so-called issue ad groups and candidates. Citizens United prohibited this type of coordination. Four of the state Supreme Court justices who voted in 2015 to decriminalize this kind of coordination had themselves been supported by one or more of the organizations engaging in that coordination during the 2011-2012 recall elections. This further underscores the urgent need for strong recusal standards and rules.

State supreme court elections in Wisconsin were relatively low-spending, nonpartisan affairs more than a decade ago. They were characterized by consideration of qualities such as judicial qualifications and credentials, temperament and impartiality. Today they have devolved into highly partisan, special-interest spending sprees, and justices fail to recuse themselves from cases where wealthy campaign contributors are parties in the cases before the court.

Special-interest campaign spending and extremely weak recusal standards have all but destroyed citizen confidence in the impartiality and credibility of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Both of these matters will be front and center in the important election next April.

Two of the three candidates for state Supreme Court have expressed support for stronger recusal rules: Marquette University Law School Professor Edward Fallone and Dane County Circuit Court Judge Jill Karofsky. Incumbent Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly has said he is just fine with self-recusal and the obvious conflict of interest that comes with that weak standard.

The Supreme Court may have the final say on many critical issues in the years ahead for citizens, including partisan gerrymandering of state legislative and congressional districts. Every Wisconsinite who cares about democracy and the rule of law needs to participate in the February primary, April general and Nov. 3 elections.




CONTACT:

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





Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI  53703
608/256-2686

Want Good Government?
Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
www.CommonCauseWisconsin.org



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Monday, November 25, 2019

CC/WI Urges UW Regents to Adopt Uniform Student Photo IDs Compliant with Voter ID Law for All Institutions



For Release: Monday - November 25, 2019


Only Four of the Thirteen Four-Year UW Institutions Currently Issue an Initial Standard Student Photo ID that Can be Utilized for Voting Purposes

The State Governing Board of Common Cause in Wisconsin, the state's largest non-partisan political reform advocacy organization with 7,000 members and supporters, sent the following letter to the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents:



November 25, 2019

Andrew S. Peterson, President
Board of Regents
University of Wisconsin System
1860 Van Hise Hall
1220 Linden Drive
Madison, WI 53706

Dear President Peterson & Members of the Board of Regents,

We are concerned that many students attending University of Wisconsin institutions are currently experiencing difficulty in being able to vote utilizing photo identification cards issued by their UW institution. We believe that unnecessary obstacles hinder the ability of students to be able to exercise their most basic and important civic duty.

In April, Common Cause in Wisconsin, the state’s largest non-partisan political reform organization with more than 7,000 members and activists, sued the Wisconsin Elections Commission over this matter. In the lawsuit, we argue that the student ID requirements erect pointless barriers for casting a ballot in Wisconsin. Most students are newly registered voters and new to the voting process. The unnecessary requirements for student IDs can confuse and deter these new voters rather than making elections more accessible for them. The lawsuit challenges specific student ID requirements, not the state voter ID law as a whole.

Wisconsin’s current voter ID law singles out student voters by requiring information on college or university photo IDs that poll workers do not need or use. Under current law, a Wisconsin student may use a campus photo ID to vote if it includes his or her name, photo, issuance date, signature and an expiration date not more than two years after the issuance date. Students must also show proof of current enrollment, such as an enrollment verification letter or tuition fee receipt.

The proof of enrollment requirement makes issuance and expiration dates unnecessary for student ID cards. Other forms of acceptable voter IDs need not have expiration dates and are valid indefinitely. The current signature requirement is also unnecessary. Wisconsin’s voter ID law does not require election officials and poll workers to match the signature on an ID with the voter’s signature on the poll book or voter registration form. Other forms of accepted voter ID, such as Veterans Health Identification Cards and some tribal ID cards, do not contain signatures.

Common Cause in Wisconsin believes that the unnecessary hoops that the Wisconsin voter ID law forces students to jump through in order to be able to vote must be eliminated. Our lawsuit seeks to remove these superfluous barriers. Our litigation, however, may take many months or even years to achieve this goal. We are concerned that relief may not be forthcoming before the 2020 elections.

We therefore request that the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents act now to ensure that photo IDs issued to UW students at each of the system institutions are compliant with state law for the purpose of being able to use the student IDs to vote next year.

Currently, student photo IDs are compliant with state law for voting at only four of the thirteen four-year institutions: Eau Claire, Green Bay, Stout and Superior. At the other nine four-year institutions, the photo ID issued to students is not compliant with state law for the purposes of voting. At those institutions (La Crosse, Madison, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, Parkside, Platteville, River Falls, Stevens Point and Whitewater), students must obtain an additional photo ID for the purpose of voting.

We believe that providing all students at every four-year UW institution with a photo ID compliant with state law for voting would be a relatively simple and straightforward process at very little, if any, additional cost to state taxpayers or to students. It would make the process of voting more accessible and bring uniformity to the UW System of four-year institutions, which would be of great value and service to the citizens of Wisconsin.

Please let us know how you intend to act on this matter and how Common Cause in Wisconsin can assist you in simplifying and enhancing the voting experience for all of the students attending UW institutions.

Sincerely,

Members of the Common Cause Wisconsin State Governing Board:
Tim Cullen, Janesville (Chair)
Penny Bernard Schaber, Appleton
Sue Conley, Janesville
David Deininger, Monroe
Luke Fuszard, Middleton
Kristin Hansen, Waukesha
William Hotz, Brookfield
E. Michael McCann, Pewaukee
Kriss Marion, Blanchardville
Calvin Potter, Sheboygan Falls
Robert Schweder, Princeton
Roger Utnehmer, Wausau

Jay Heck, Madison (CC/WI Director)
Common Cause in Wisconsin




CONTACT:

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




Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI  53703
608/256-2686

Want Good Government?
Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
www.CommonCauseWisconsin.org


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Monday, October 7, 2019

Momentum Keeps Building for Fair Maps



For Release: Monday - October 7, 2019


Yet another Wisconsin county — this time Sheboygan — has voted to end partisan gerrymandering of legislative and congressional voting districts.

The Sheboygan County Board last month voted 20-4 for a resolution that “strongly urges the Wisconsin legislative and executive branches to work together to enact bipartisan legislation that would create a fair and nonpartisan process for drawing legislative and congressional redistricting plans, as well as promote more accountability and transparency in the redistricting process.”

Congratulations to Sheboygan County Board Chairman Thomas Wegner of Plymouth and the vast majority of his colleagues for becoming the 48th county in Wisconsin to approve such a measure. Every county should join this bipartisan, good-government campaign so that, following the 2020 census, fair maps can be drawn by a nonpartisan agency that’s insulated from politics and tasked with strict rules to ensure a neutral outcome.

“The fact that two-thirds of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, many of them ‘red,’ are now on record in support of ending partisan gerrymandering, demonstrates the deep, grassroots support across the state for fair maps and against rigged elections,” said Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin.

He’s right. Sheboygan County favored the Republican in the last presidential election by 14 percentage points. Other conservative counties, such as Winnebago and Lincoln, have passed similar resolutions and allowed voters there to support nonpartisan redistricting in advisory referendums.

The same thing has occurred in liberal counties such as Dane, Eau Claire and La Crosse.

The U.S. Supreme Court this year left it up to the states to stop gerrymandering. In Wisconsin, that means the Legislature must pass Assembly Bill 303 (or its Senate companion, SB 288). AB 303 mirrors the Iowa model for fair maps. A nonpartisan state agency draws Iowa’s voting districts as compact and contiguous as possible, without favoring the incumbent politicians of either party. Then the Iowa Legislature approves or rejects the maps — without making changes. And if the Iowa Legislature votes the maps down, the nonpartisan agency drafts another version.

In Wisconsin, Republicans rigged voting districts after the 2010 census to help them keep control of the Legislature. In other states, such as Illinois, Democrats unfairly shaped the maps for their benefit.

The partisan games need to end so voters of all political persuasions are fairly represented and can hold their elected officials accountable.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, have shamelessly defended gerrymandering. But a growing number of their Republicans colleagues are joining Democrats in favoring a fair process following the 2020 census. Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, also is an advocate for the Iowa model, which saves Iowa taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees and produces more competitive seats.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents to the statewide Marquette Law School poll said they favored nonpartisan redistricting for Wisconsin. It’s time for Vos and Fitzgerald to respect the public’s wishes and allow fair elections.





CONTACT:

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




Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI  53703
608/256-2686

Want Good Government?
Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
www.CommonCauseWisconsin.org



Read More...


Tuesday, October 1, 2019

In the News - October 2019




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