Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Common Cause Wisconsin May 2020 Update: Elections and Redistricting Reform

For Release: Tuesday- May 26, 2020

Wisconsin Capitol at night. Photo credit: Michael 75 from Unsplash

Common Cause Wisconsin Update:
We Need Safe and Fair Elections & To End Partisan Gerrymandering!

To paraphrase one of our greatest U.S. Presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Primary Election Day in Wisconsin, April 7th, 2020 -- was a day that will live in infamy.”

Wisconsin was the only state in the nation that did not postpone its primary election in the midst of the national coronavirus pandemic, while 15 other states did. Only in Wisconsin were voters forced to make what could be a literal life or death choice.

They could vote in person on election day to have their voice heard, but risk being infected or passing on COVID-19 to someone else, unintentionally. Or, they could choose not to vote and not have their voice heard and thereby not risk being exposed to the virus. Tens of thousands of voters who had applied by the deadline for absentee ballots but had not received them by April 7th -- were forced to make this agonizing choice -- along with many other voters unable to vote absentee. Tens of thousands of voters were effectively disenfranchised in this disastrous election through no fault of their own.

The blame for this horrific dilemma can be placed squarely on the selfish, hyperpartisan calculations of Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. They were backed by and supported by the partisan conservatives on the Wisconsin Supreme Court (4-2 vote) and the partisan conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court (5 to 4 vote) -- as well as by President Donald Trump, in collaboration with the national Republican Party. Vos, Fitzgerald and Trump all believed that their candidate for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, conservative Justice Daniel Kelly, who was appointed to the Court by former Gov. Scott Walker four years ago, would win on April 7th because the COVID-19 pandemic would most severely reduce voter turnout in Democratic-leaning areas like Milwaukee and Dane Counties and elsewhere. Despite the obvious danger to thousands of Wisconsinites posed by going ahead with the “in-person” election, they refused to allow it to be postponed.

CC/WI led in the statewide effort to press for the extension of the deadline for acceptance of absentee ballots and for the relaxation of onerous photo ID and witness signature requirements on those ballots. We supported the call of Gov. Tony Evers to postpone the election before the Wisconsin Supreme Court blocked his order. We have called for a U.S. Congressional investigation of the election. And now, we are working to ensure that Wisconsinites will never again have to choose between staying safe and healthy and being able to vote in an election. The conditions under which the April 7th election was held were a national disgrace that must never be repeated – in Wisconsin or elsewhere.

CC/WI was by far, the most outspoken and the most often cited reform organization in Wisconsin during the lead-up to the April 7th “pandemic” election and afterward. We were interviewed and quoted in The Washington Post, Newsweek, Politico, ABC News, National Public Radio, The Guardian, USA Today (and in Gannett newspapers nationwide), the national Associated Press and in dozens of state and local media articles and stories. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Japanese TV also covered us. We told the nation and the world what was happening in Wisconsin, who was to blame and how this must never happen again.
Between now and November, CC/WI is working to inform citizens about how to be able to request to vote by mail-in absentee ballot for the upcoming August primary election and in November and to do so in plenty of time so they will be sure to receive their ballots and can return them well before, or on the election day deadline. We are also continuing our essential work informing Wisconsinites about what they must do in order to comply with Wisconsin’s restrictive photo identification voter law as we also help citizens obtain the required ID to vote. CC/WI has led the statewide effort in assisting public and private university and college students to understand whether or not their institution-issued photo ID is compliant with the state voter law. If it is not, we inform students how to obtain the correct form of ID so they can vote.

Last year CC/WI sued the Wisconsin Elections Commission for unequal treatment under the Wisconsin photo ID law for the way it is applied to college and university students in the state. Specifically, we addressed the fact that the requirements for the photo ID issued by many institutions to students exceeds the requirements of the state ID law for the purposes of voting. State law created needless obstacles like mandatory expiration dates and a signature requirement for a student to vote – requirements that other forms of voting ID do not demand. That makes it more burdensome and difficult for students to vote. Our suit is currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago and we are pressing for a judgment before November. In the meantime, we are updating the only comprehensive website in the state for college voters to inform them about their student IDs and how to be able to vote.

CC/WI has consistently opposed Wisconsin’s restrictive and extreme voter photo ID law because we believe more people, not fewer should be able to vote and because Wisconsin places an undue and unfair burden on poorer people, people of color and people who rely on public transportation and do not have driver licenses, including many seniors who live in both urban and rural communities. This state once had the highest, or second highest voter turnout in the nation. The extreme voter ID law, which became effective in 2016, has caused Wisconsin to fall out of the top ten states in voter turnout. That’s just wrong and unjust. We are fighting to end it.

CC/WI is resurrecting its very successful and unique “free rides to the polls” program, which we first developed in 2014 and have continued, with increasing participation and involvement since then. We have the only website in the state where voters can go to see who offers free transportation to polling places on election day, or for early voting, or even to get a ride to a state Division of Motor Vehicles office to get a free photo ID that can be utilized to vote. In November of 2018, CC/WI coordinated several thousand such free rides for voters for these purposes. It will be in even higher demand and even more needed in Wisconsin this November.

CC/WI is also leading the statewide fight to inform citizens and advocate against an outrageous purge of as many as 200,000 duly registered voters on the Wisconsin statewide voter registration list overseen by the Wisconsin Elections Commission. An ultra-conservative law firm hand picked a conservative judge in Ozaukee County last December to rule that tens of thousands of voters who had not responded to a postcard mailed by the Wisconsin Elections Commission last October should be removed from the state voter list and be forced to re-register to vote! Of course, most of these voters were from counties such as Milwaukee and Dane that tend to lean Democratic in elections. A State Court of Appeals overruled the biased Ozaukee County Judge earlier this year and the conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court voted 3 to 3 not to hear the case. Conservative Justice Daniel Kelly, who recused himself from that decision because his re-election was pending at the time, has now announced he will vote to hear the case, even after his decisive defeat on April 13, and he has signaled he can support purging tens of thousands of voters so that he can hand conservatives and Republicans a decisive, unfair and partisan voting advantage heading towards the November election.

No one has been more outspoken and critical than CC/WI of the far right-wing law firm that dreamed up this voter purge, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty in Milwaukee, or of the hand-picked, partisan Ozaukee County Judge Paul Malloy, or, of the hyperpartisan conservatives on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and, in particular, of Justice Daniel Kelly. We consistently speak out against this partisanship on our state courts and the urgent need to return impartiality, fairness, and the rule of law to Wisconsin courts at every level.

We are also preparing to mobilize our allies to help identify who will be purged from the voting list by the expected Wisconsin Supreme Court decision and then to work to re-register them before November. You can and should check up and track your own voter registration status at myvote.wi.gov. We must take pro-active, positive action to combat this voter suppression!

CC/WI continues to lead in the seven-year effort to end partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin. Last July, "stand alone" redistricting reform legislation, based on neighbor Iowa’s redistricting system, was introduced in the Wisconsin Legislature by State Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and State Representative Robyn Vining (D-Waukesha). What is very different this time was the significant Republican support and co-sponsorship of the legislation, Senate Bill 288 and Assembly Bill 303. During the past three sessions of the Wisconsin Legislature, similar reform legislation had attracted only one Republican co-sponsor. Now, it has five: State Representatives Joel Kitchens of Sturgeon Bay, Jeff Mursau of Crivitz, Todd Novak of Dodgeville, Loren Oldenburg of Viroqua and Travis Tranel of Cuba City. And another, Jon Plumer of Lodi, has said he will vote for the measure as well. Clearly state legislators are hearing from their constituents, including from many CC/WI members. Turning up the heat on your state legislators is working! Your voice does make a difference.

Seven years ago, Common Cause in Wisconsin united pro-reform legislators behind this “Iowa Model” legislation. Not many Wisconsinites knew or understood fully at that time what partisan gerrymandering entailed and just how destructive it has been to basic fairness and democracy in this state by effectively silencing the voices of millions of Wisconsin voters in elections since 2012. But now, after seven years of intensive citizen education and high visibility information about this issue by CC/WI and our allies -- virtually every citizen of all political stripes grasps this issue and the need to have fair voting maps, not the rigged, partisan maps we have now. A Marquette Law School statewide poll found that 72 percent of Wisconsinites support a nonpartisan redistricting process for 2021 and that includes 62 percent of all Republican voters. We are winning this battle for the hearts and minds of Wisconsinites!

Grassroots citizen pressure at the local level has resulted in the passage of resolutions in support of the Iowa Model by more than two thirds (50) of Wisconsin’s 72 counties thus far, most of which voted “red” (for Donald Trump and Scott Walker) in the 2016 and 2018 elections. And that movement is gaining even more strength each day. We worked with our reform allies to get citizen referendums on fair voting maps on ballots in ten counties to pass overwhelmingly on April 7th and now have won in all 22 counties that have held such votes!

Redistricting reform will occur in Wisconsin, sooner or later. Support for ending partisan gerrymandering is growing and Governor Tony Evers and Wisconsin’s other statewide constitutional officers support it too. Republican support in the Legislature has increased and the issue is “front and center” for 2020. Our task is to continue to advocate, educate, organize and keep pushing forward to get this done. And we will. We will never give in or quit in this fight.

We are gearing up now for the upcoming redistricting battle that will occur next year – in 2021. CC/WI intends to hold Robin Vos and the other legislative leaders who have blocked fair representation to account and challenge them every step of the way. We will not allow them to do to Wisconsin what they did in 2011 when they all but destroyed fair elections in Wisconsin.
During this awful pandemic, you and I are currently living in some of the most difficult and trying times in our lives and in American history. Some of you may have experienced the loss of a loved one, a friend or someone you know. Many have suffered economic loss and even severe devastation during this unprecedented period. All of us are undergoing some degree of stress and uncertainty as we navigate our lives through this unfamiliar and disquieting terrain, not knowing what tomorrow will bring, but hoping for a better day ahead.

If you can assist CC/WI financially at the current time so that we can continue to press ahead to make our elections in Wisconsin fair and safe and to end partisan gerrymandering and return some semblance of decency and democracy to our state, we would be deeply grateful to you.

If that is possible, you can “snail mail” your check or credit card payment to:

Common Cause Wisconsin
P.O. Box 2597
Madison, WI. 53701-2597

Or, you can make a secure, on-line contribution to CC/WI by going here.

Thank you for caring deeply about the health and safety of our democracy in Wisconsin. Please stay healthy and safe and hopeful in the days, weeks and months immediately ahead.

With gratitude and hope for a better tomorrow,

Jay Heck
CC/WI Director


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

Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI  53703

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