Friday, December 11, 2020

Common Cause Wisconsin Testimony for Today's Joint Legislative Committee Hearing on Election Results

Friday – December 11, 2020



Below are comments submitted to the joint state legislative committees holding a hearing today from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM reviewing the results of the November 3, 2020 election. The committee chairs limited testimony to invitees only, but we are making public our comments that we submitted to the legislators. You can watch (although not participate) in this "public" hearing by going here: https://wiseye.org/live/

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December 10, 2020

To: Senator Kathleen Bernier, Chair, Committee on Elections, Ethics and Rural Issues
Senator Alberta Darling, Vice-Chair, Committee on Elections, Ethics and Rural Issues
Senator Mark Miller, Senator Jeff Smith, Senator Duey Stroebel
 
Representative Ron Tusler, Chair, Committee on Campaigns and Elections
Representative Joe Sanfelippo, Vice-Chair, Committee on Campaigns and Elections
Representative Janel Brandtjen, Representative John Macco, Representative David Murphy, Representative Shae A. Sortwell, Representative Mark Spreitzer, Representative Lisa Subeck, Representative JoCasta Zamarripa
 
Re: Joint Public Hearing on 2020 Election - December 11, 2020
 
Dear Members of the Joint Committee on Elections,
 
Wisconsin makes a compelling case for why the election clerks across the state should have heard from you before the November 2020 election if you felt there was a need to further clarify standards to process ballots prior to Election Day. The options to use absentee ballots understandably became much more attractive to voters as COVID-19 hit and devastated Wisconsin beginning last Spring and accelerated in the Fall. But only now, after the election is over and the results have been canvassed and certified, you call into question the results of your own inaction, and in the process, incite chaos and undermine voter confidence in the election system you created over the last decade.
 
And now, clerks and election officials at every level across the state have had people from their districts and from out of Wisconsin, in their offices, on the phone, and on social media threatening and degrading them and their staff, and calling into question this election because you have not stood by the election officials who have done their civic duty, and, have acted conscientiously as public servants doing the work, proscribed by the law, that you wrote. You have not stood up to the people in Wisconsin who are angry about the results, and who are resentful because their candidate for President didn’t win this election, and who continue to echo the lies about the results and how this election has been administered. They have not brought forward credible evidence to buttress their claims, and they have put their candidate over their country. You have failed to tell them that they are wrong and that the rumors they believe are unfounded.

The damage being done to our election system and to our democracy is very real and palpable, the longer this charade continues. Wisconsin legislators are complicit in tearing down our system of government and law. Listen to Senator Devin LeMahieu’s own words in 2019, when he proposed legislation (SB 574) that sought to process absentee ballots early and provide the help that election clerks have been advocating for and advising for years: “Election integrity is of utmost concern for voters in Wisconsin, and the longer the count takes, the more potential for mistrust in results to be fomented by those who mean harm to our democracy.” State legislators who have supported the numerous false and unsupported allegations of voting fraud in Wisconsin have wrongly given credence and credibility to these vicious attacks on our system. You have been ignoring exactly what Sen LeMahieu warned about only a year ago.
 
And to what end? To claim you’re now investigating and seeking to improve the election process? To now ask questions and hold this hearing about the validity of the 2020 Wisconsin election after the final result has been canvassed, recounted and certified? You are now participating in the devaluation of tens of thousands of legitimately cast and counted votes after the election, simply because some of you don't like the result of the election. And your targeted disenfranchisement of only voters in Wisconsin's most populous counties, Milwaukee and Dane, are because they voted overwhelmingly for Joe Biden over Donald Trump and because they contain the largest number of Black and Brown voters in Wisconsin. The ramifications of this maneuver are beneath contempt.
 
Wisconsin has voted. America has voted. America is bigger than any one party or one candidate. Where we can agree is that we need to continue to look for ways to improve our elections to ensure people can vote securely, immediately process early votes, and expand voter access so every eligible citizen - no matter what they look like or where they live - can take part in our democracy. The voters have decided. Let’s get Wisconsin moving forward. Wisconsin leaders need to focus on beating COVID and helping our hurting economy instead of wasting time contesting confirmed elections. It’s time to accept the results and tackle the very real challenges Wisconsinites currently face.
 
In 2016, Common Cause in Wisconsin thanked our election officials for administering a difficult and very close election, including running a statewide recount. The 2016 recount confirmed that our process was secure and was done with integrity. Between 2016 and 2020, we worked tirelessly with many partners to increase voter education and improve election administration according to the law so that all eligible voters are more informed and engaged participants in our democracy.
 
In 2020, we again thanked our election officials for overcoming the challenges of administering a difficult election in an unprecedented year. This time with many more voters using absentee ballots but without giving clerks the ability to begin processing those ballots earlier so the results could be reported sooner. This time with a global pandemic to navigate which required implementing procedures to keep both voters and election officials safe. This time with greater transparency about election administration being reported to the public every step of the way. This time with completing their work across the state, as well as completing the recounts in Milwaukee and Dane counties, as the law requires and with integrity. This time under threats to the lives and safety of election officials at every level from the commissioners at Wisconsin Election Commission to local municipal clerks and their staff. They all deserve your acknowledgement of their good work and respect for the integrity with which they administered this election.
 
Finally, election officials and the voters of Wisconsin deserve your respect and support for the outcome of this election in Wisconsin.
 
Thank you for your consideration of our comments.
 
Sincerely,

Erin L Grunze and Jay Heck
On behalf of Common Cause in Wisconsin
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Contact: 
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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Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Common Cause Wisconsin Opposes Jensen/WILL Petition to WI Supreme Court to Short-Circuit 2021 Redistricting Process

Tuesday – December 1, 2020


Last June, former Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, who was forced out of the Wisconsin Legislature for his role in the infamous Legislative Caucus Scandal of 2001-2002, and the ultra right-wing Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) petitioned the Wisconsin Supreme Court to short circuit and circumvent the normal legal channels involved in the decennial redistricting process which will occur next year during 2021. Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI) is joining hundreds of Wisconsin citizens and numerous organizations in opposing this initiative, which will be argued before the Wisconsin Supreme Court on January 15th. CC/WI submitted these comments to the Court yesterday:


November 30, 2020

Wisconsin Supreme Court
P.O. Box 1688
Madison, WI 53701-1688

RE: Rules Petition 20-03
(Petition from Scott Jensen and Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty)

Dear Honorable Justices of the Supreme Court:

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on this petition on behalf of Common Cause Wisconsin, one of the state’s largest and oldest non-partisan advocacy organizations. Common Cause Wisconsin is a citizens’ political reform organization with currently more than 7,700 members and activists statewide and in continuous operation in Wisconsin since 1972.

We urge the Court to decline to use its rulemaking authority to amend Wis. Stat. (Rule) 809.70 by adding newly proposed subdivisions (4) and (5) and thereby reject the adoption of Rules Petition 20-03.

Our opposition to the Jensen petition is based on both the narrow scope of interest in the upcoming redistricting process which it seeks to define, as well as the abbreviated period of time in which it proposes the Court to act. Both of these factors undermine and even largely exclude altogether, the interests and concerns of most Wisconsin citizens, including our members. It is important to remember that voters and citizens are the ones whose rights are most impacted by redistricting, and who deserve to be protected by the Court. The petition seeks a rush to judgment without allowing citizens to have their concerns adjudicated and addressed through even the normal channels of judicial review. We discuss these concerns below, but first feel compelled to describe Common Cause Wisconsin’s particular stake in this proposal.

Common Cause Wisconsin is the state affiliate of the national organization, Common Cause, headquartered in Washington, D.C. Common Cause and its state affiliates have been very interested in and involved in the decennial redistricting process in states throughout the nation, including Wisconsin, through citizen education, advocacy, litigation and in other avenues. Support for fair, non-partisan, transparent redistricting processes has been central to the mission and objective of our work. A recent and very prominent example of our involvement in this arena was in the landmark redistricting case before the United States Supreme Court last year, Rucho v. Common Cause, No. 18-422, 588 U.S. (2019). While that particular case involved redistricting in the state of North Carolina, there were significant issues raised in the litigation that have important implications for Wisconsin and for the 2021 redistricting process.

In addition, Common Cause Wisconsin has been a leading advocate since the 2011 redistricting process for a much more accessible, visible, transparent and non-partisan redistricting process for 2021. This is because of the extreme secrecy and lack of transparency or accountability that occurred in the last round of redistricting. This petition undermines our efforts to improve the 2021 redistricting process and not repeat the grave errors of 2011.

We are also concerned that the petitioners seek to limit the scope of intervenors in the 2021 redistricting process in Wisconsin to “[t]he Governor, the Senate, the Assembly and political parties” (Jensen Rule subsection (5)(b). This may exclude the participation of members of Common Cause as well as all other citizens of Wisconsin who are not members of the Legislature or of a political party. Members of Common Cause as well as most, if not all citizens of Wisconsin are affected by, and have an abiding interest and stake in the way in which state legislative and congressional district maps are devised, constructed and implemented in the redistricting process. Rules Petition 20-03 seemingly denies that fact.

Further, Common Cause Wisconsin is deeply concerned about the narrowness and exclusivity of the judicial review of the Wisconsin redistricting process that the petitioners seek. The inability for a record to be developed through the trial court and appellate is problematic in our view. As is the timetable that does not account for the likelihood of federal claims that could flow from maps even after they are blessed by the Court.

While we understand redistricting litigation can involve election deadlines, and thus call for an expeditious process, the proposed rule here unnecessarily rushes and short-changes review in ways courts have not been compelled to in past redistricting litigation. Rushing this process will undermine public trust in the outcome, particularly if individual and membership groups are excluded from playing an active role.

In sum, we urge the Wisconsin Supreme Court to reject Rules Petition 20-03. Thank you for your consideration of Common Cause Wisconsin’s comments.

Sincerely,

Jay Heck
Executive Director

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Contact: 
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, November 12, 2020

Fair Voting Maps Advance in Wisconsin on November 3

For Release: Thursday – November 12, 2020


 2011 Gerrymander Allowed Very Few Close Elections in 2020 

A huge victory for Fair Voting Maps and Non-Partisan Redistricting Reform in Wisconsin on November 3rd as referendums in all eleven counties (& 3 municipalities) it was on the ballot in -- passed with margins as high as 77 percent. Every time this is on the ballot it has passed - now in 28 counties. This time voters in Adams, Bayfield, Brown, Crawford, Door, Dunn, Iowa, Jefferson, Kenosha, Rusk and Waushara Counties voted for advisory referendums stipulating support for a non-partisan redistricting process like our neighboring state of Iowa's, to be adopted by the Wisconsin Legislature and to be in place for the 2021 redistricting process.

While advisory referendums like this are not legally binding on legislators to follow the directives of the great majority of their constituents, they do exert considerable political pressure on them. For example, there are now five Republican co-sponsors of the redistricting reform legislation in the Legislature this past session, partly as a result of the passage of county referendums in the past two years. In the 2017-2018 legislative session there was only one Republican co-sponsor. Legislation to impose an Iowa-model non-partisan redistricting reform process will be reintroduced in the upcoming, new Wisconsin state legislative session in January.

In the meantime, the durability of the most partisan state legislative gerrymandering in the nation in 2011, which occurred in Wisconsin, was in full evidence in 2020 where only 10 of 99 Assembly Districts experienced even remotely competitive elections in which the margin of victory separating the winner from the lose was within 9 percentage points. And only four of those ten were truly competitive - within 4 points. All of the other 89 Assembly districts saw either "blow out" elections or elections that were entirely uncontested by candidates of one major political party or the other.

In the State Senate, only one of the 16 elections was truly competitive -- the 32nd District in western Wisconsin which includes La Crosse and surrounding counties. None of the other State Senate Districts was particularly competitive and none of Wisconsin's eight Congressional elections was remotely close at all.

The passage of the county referendums and the continuation of the People's Maps Commission public hearings, which resume next Thursday evening, November 19th at 6 PM, will continue to build public support and momentum for fair state legislative and congressional voting maps. The November 19th hearing will give priority to citizens residing in the 3rd Congressional District. To register to testify or submit written comments, go here. 

On Wisconsin!

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CONTACT:

Jay Heck
Executive Director

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

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Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Voter Participation Soars in A Largely Problem-Free Election

 For Release: Wednesday – November 11, 2020


The third closest Presidential election in Wisconsin in the last twenty years was concluded within about 15 hours of the polls closing on November 3rd. Unofficial results show former Vice President Joe Biden defeating President Donald Trump by 20,539 votes. The official statewide canvass of the votes is currently taking place and must be concluded by November 17th. Then, the Trump campaign can formally request a recount of the votes.

Voter turnout in Wisconsin for this election was the highest it has been since 2004 at just over 72 percent. More than 3.2 million of Wisconsin's 3.6 million registered voters cast ballots either utilizing absentee ballots or by voting in-person early or on November 3rd. Voter turnout in 2016 was 67.3 percent.

This level of voter participation is remarkable and even astonishing, coming as it did in the midst of the most infectious and deadly pandemic and health emergency occurring in the state and the nation in over a hundred years.

And, by every indication and measure that we have been able to determine thus far, this election in Wisconsin was conducted without any of the problems or threats that were anticipated by some, or which occurred in some past elections. According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission and to all objective observers of the electoral process, there were few problems or evidence of any election malfeasance, fraud, or voter intimidation and harassment on or before November 3rd.

In short, this was a remarkably smooth, problem-free election characterized by very high voter participation and interest throughout most of Wisconsin.

And yet, without any proof or evidence whatsoever, there have been wildly speculative, baseless and completely false assertions by some that voting fraud and malfeasance resulted in Trump finishing some 20,000 votes behind Biden. It must be noted that there were no such baseless assertions made in 2016 when Trump finished about 23,000 votes ahead of Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin.

Even more alarmingly, some elected officials in Wisconsin have, without evidence, suggested there were voter "irregularities" in Milwaukee, a thinly-veiled racial smear and have even gone so far as to suggest that the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature should control how the state's Electoral College delegates cast their votes for President, regardless of the will of the voters of the state. This is illegal. In Wisconsin, the state legislature plays no role in certifying or deciding which slate of electors vote in the electoral college.

We have many of you to thank for helping so much to make this election a relatively trouble-free and safe exercise of the democratic process! CC/WI was extremely busy in the weeks leading up to November 3rd to inform voters about what they needed to vote by absentee ballot and in-person, and to ready voters before they cast their ballot.

CC/WI also helped to recruit nearly 1,000 volunteers through Protect the Vote in Wisconsin for various election-related activities, including volunteers who called or texted voters to assist with registration and answer questions, poll monitors on Election Day, social media monitors to watch and report false and misleading election posts, in-area volunteers to support the Voter Helpline and assisted with taking voters to DMVs to get free IDs or be a witness to sign the absentee ballot envelope for voters. We also helped recruit lawyers to staff the Election Protection Hotline (1-888-Our-Vote) which is a service voters could use before and on Election Day to report any problems and concerns with voting.

This was a spectacular, all hands on deck effort by so many of you to bring about an election in Wisconsin that we can be proud of. But we need to be on guard against those who seek to undermine it, and who want to impose their own political will over that of the voters.

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Contact:

Jay Heck

Executive Director
608/256-2686 (office)
608/512-9363 (cell)


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