Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Test for Democracy in the United States Senate This Week

Wednesday – June 23, 2021


WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 03: U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks as other House Democrats listen during a news conference on the For the People Act at the east front of the U.S. Capitol March 3, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)


The "For the People Act" is Essential for the Preservation of Democracy
by Jay Heck


Note: This guest editorial appeared in The Wisconsin Examiner on June 21, 2021 as well as The Cap Times on June 22, 2021. 
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Since the 2020 election, state legislatures across the country have introduced more than 300 voter suppression bills that weaken every American’s right to vote. While states like Georgia and Texas are making national headlines, in the last few weeks Republican state legislators in Wisconsin approved a host of anti-voter legislation that will diminish and restrict seniors, people of color, and the disabled from exercising their freedom to vote. And more of these measures are on the way.

This wave of voter suppression comes on the heels of a presidential election in which thousands of Wisconsinites were forced to risk their lives to vote during the April, 2020 primary election amid the rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus. Rather than work together with Democrats and non-partisan groups to make voting safer and more accessible, Republican legislators are actively working to limit the franchise. Gov. Tony Evers has vowed to veto any anti-voter legislation but Wisconsin voters’ right to be heard on Election Day should not depend on who is in office.

Our democracy is in a current state of crisis. We need the United States Senate to act now and safeguard our freedom to vote by passing the For the People Act.

Here in Wisconsin, the Republican-led State Senate and Assembly are part of a nationwide effort to usher in blatant voter suppression legislation to manipulate the rules of the game for their own political advantage. From making it more difficult to cast an absentee ballot to prohibiting foundation funding to improve local election administration, to limiting the number of ballot drop boxes allowed in neighborhoods, Republican state legislators are engaging in anti-democratic practices that destroy the integrity of our elections and, ultimately, voters’ faith in government.

As self-interested politicians look to silence voters for their own political gain, the For the People Act contains bold reforms that will strengthen our democracy and ensure all voters can freely exercise their right to vote. Most crucially, the legislation would create automatic voter registration across the country, expand early voting and voting-by-mail and prohibit voter roll purges and partisan gerrymandering so that we the people elect our representatives, not the other way around.

The For the People Act reduces the influence of money in our politics by requiring any organization involved in political activity to disclose large donors, creating a small-donor-focused matching system so Wisconsin voters can have a real voice and not continue to be drowned out by big, special interest money and secret donors. The legislation also bolsters the enforcement of the money in politics rules already on the books.

That’s why an unprecedented coalition of community organizations, voting rights experts, and 67% of Americans—including 56% of Republicans and 68% of independents — support the For the People Act.

If the For the People Act were the law of the land today, none of the Republican state legislators’ voter suppression schemes would be possible in Wisconsin or elsewhere. Without its passage, anti-voter laws will continue to germinate. The U.S. House of Representatives has done its job and already approved the For the People Act. The legislation now awaits a vote that could come in the next week in the U.S. Senate where Sen. Tammy Baldwin has been a staunch supporter and original co-sponsor. Sen. Ron Johnson, presumably comfortable with the corrupt status quo, does not yet support legislation that would keep him accountable to the people of Wisconsin.

The United States Senate has no greater duty than to protect Americans’ constitutional right to be heard by their government, regardless of age, race, political party, or zip code. The For the People Act is the bipartisan solution we need to build a truly participatory government of, by, and for the people.
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Jay Heck has been the executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin since 1996. For more information: commoncausewisconsin.org or call 608-256-2686.

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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, June 22, 2021

More Voter Suppression Legislation Being Voted on in Wisconsin Assembly Today

Tuesday – June 22, 2021

Photo by E Grunze

Absentee and Disabled Voters Being Targeted


Common Cause Wisconsin opposes Assembly Bill 179, Assembly Bill 198, Assembly Bill 201, and Senate Bill 203
 
Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI) is one of the state’s largest non-partisan political reform advocacy organizations with more than 8,000 members and activists residing in every county of the state. We have been active in Wisconsin since our founding in 1970.
 
We oppose these four measures being considered by the Assembly today and urge Representatives to vote against their passage. All four would make it more difficult for Wisconsinites to vote and would result in fewer eligible voters being able to express their will at election time. All four measures are extremely partisan and were devised without any consultation or discussion with legislators from other political parties or with the wide array of non-partisan organizations who have been engaged and interested in elections and voting for many years and willing to work with legislators on how to improve elections in Wisconsin. These bills in particular put up barriers that make voting more difficult for the elderly and voters with disabilities.
 
Assembly Bill 179: This measure would limit voting rights of nursing home and group home residents. It may conflict with federal law which requires that nursing homes support the right of residents to vote. Under this measure, if staff offered to provide a resident with assistance, this would be a felony crime. This bill would require the administrator of the facility to notify relatives of the residents as to when the special voting deputies will be coming to the facility to assist in the casting of absentee ballots.
 
  • Most people in these homes and facilities make decisions for themselves every day of the week. They do not need a relative next to them when they are voting and fulfilling their duty in our democracy. They should not have their right to the privacy of their vote violated. This bill goes so far as to make it illegal for employees of a retirement home or residential care facility to even encourage a resident to vote.
 
 
Assembly Bill 198:  This measure would require the clerk to mail the defective ballot envelope back to the voter, require the clerk to put a notice of the defect on the voter's voter information page in MyVote, and prohibit a municipal clerk from correcting a defect on the completed absentee ballot certificate envelope. Specifically, the bill would create new felonies in the list of election frauds to punish election officials.
 
  • This bill addresses how clerks should act when a voter returns a completed absentee ballot with a defect in the ballot certificate. If a certificate envelope has a defect, the clerk must return the ballot if time permits to the elector and post a notification of the defect on the elector's voter information page on MyVote website. However, not all voters can access MyVote and they would be unaware of the problem to make corrections. Additionally, the bill does not make clear if the voter will know the notice has been put in their voter information page on MyVote unless they happen to check the page. Existing law does not require notice of defects; however, the Wisconsin Election Commission guidance encourages clerks to contact the voter directly.
  • Mailing a ballot back to the voter within only a few days until Election Day will guarantee the ballot envelope is not returned corrected in time for the vote to be counted. The mail can be slow. There may not be time to return the ballot to the voter and for the voter to send it back, so the vote may not be counted.
  • Currently the clerk may look up the address or contact the voter for information. Existing law allows the clerk to mail the ballot back if there is time for the voter to correct the defect. This is a bad bill in that it will result in many ballots being tossed for information missing on the envelope. AND the bill does not allow for correction of the envelope except by the voter when the ballot and envelope is returned by mail. It does not seem to allow the clerk alternate ways for corrections, like a phone call and a visit to the clerk's office by the voter. While a correction or cure process for absentee ballot envelopes is something that the legislature should take up, it should not be in the form of this bill. It should give clear instructions so that clerks and voters are able to correct mistakes to ensure all ballots cast are counted.
 
 
Assembly Bill 201: This measure would no longer allow voters who are indefinitely confined or overseas to receive absentee ballots automatically. Instead, voters must apply separately for ballots related to the Spring Election and those for the General Election, and they would need to show a proscribed photo ID. If the voter does not return a primary ballot, they would not be mailed a general ballot. In addition, this bill would prohibit the Wisconsin Elections Commission (as well as municipal or county clerk or local elections board) from sending absentee ballot applications en masse, as it did in 2020 to 2.7 million Wisconsin voters.
 
  • Forcing indefinitely confined voters to fill out an absentee ballot request several times a year is extremely burdensome. Wisconsin has multiple elections every year. The photo ID list required for voting in Wisconsin is often not an item many voters who are indefinitely confined have readily available or have access in acquiring. The mass mailing of absentee ballot applications gives the voters the choice about how and when they vote. Election administrators should have the authority and flexibility to make voting easier by being able to mail absentee ballot applications.
 
 
Senate Bill 203: This bill would prohibit any individual from helping more than one non-family member return their absentee ballot. The bill would limit who can return a voter’s absentee ballot to the voter’s immediate family or legal guardian, with very limited exceptions.
 
  • This bill makes it harder for voters to return their completed ballots to have their votes counted. Voters should have access to needed assistance from trusted friends, neighbors, care providers or community groups. Many voters with disabilities who vote absentee are non-drivers and ask someone they trust to deliver their absentee ballot. If their usual driver has already delivered a ballot for someone, the voter would have to find another way to get it returned.
 
 
Even with some amendments to these bills, they are a step backwards, as they go against the promise of democracy and freedom, and erect new barriers for voters. The Assembly should oppose these bills in their floor session this afternoon.

🗣 Your voice is needed. 🗣
 
Contact your state senator and your state representative and let them know that these anti-voter bills need to be defeated! Your legislators need to hear from you that this attempt to restrict election participation is not acceptable.
 
Tell your state senator and representative to oppose the package of bills attacking our freedom to vote. Take action today. (This form makes it easy to directly contact your legislators.)

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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

Read More...


Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Redistricting Reform Legislation Launched With Strong Bipartisan and Grassroots Support

Wednesday - June 16, 2021


Non-Partisan "Iowa Model" is Ideal for Wisconsin

This is the year that the process of redrawing state legislative and congressional districts to reflect population changes over the past ten years will at least begin and should be completed. The last time this process occurred, in 2011, Republicans in complete control of both state legislative chambers and the governorship, rammed through the most partisan, secretive, and unfair gerrymander of any state in the nation and one of the five most partisan of any redistricting processes in the last 50 years. That is not likely to happen this time around because there is a Governor of a different political party now in office and Tony Evers has promised to veto partisan Republican voting maps if they are forced through the Legislature again, as in 2011.
 
And in Wisconsin there is a much fairer, non-partisan alternative to the hyper-partisan redistricting process in place now that has overwhelming public support, and which was just re-introduced in the Legislature for the 6th consecutive legislative session. That measure is based on the redistricting process that our neighboring state of Iowa has had in place since 1980 and which has almost complete and total public support and confidence because it puts the interests of voters before that of politicians.
 
In Iowa a non-partisan legislative entity draws voter maps according to a strict set of non-partisan criteria. Partisan legislators have no role in drawing state legislative and congressional districts and can only vote up or down on the maps drawn by the Legislative Service Agency. They can't amend the maps or change them. And the non-partisan voter maps have been adopted by the Iowa Legislature in every redistricting process since 1980 - four straight times.
 
In mid-May, at a rally in front of the State Capitol in Madison, the "Iowa Model'' legislation, which CC/WI united pro-reform legislators and state organizations and citizens behind beginning in 2013, was introduced with bipartisan co-sponsorship by State Senator Jeff Smith (D - Eau Claire) and State Representative Deb Andraca (D - Whitefish Bay). Senate Bill 389 and Assembly Bill 395 has been co-sponsored by Republican State Representatives Joel Kitchens of Sturgeon Bay, Todd Novak of Dodgeville, and Travis Tranel of Cuba City.
 
This legislation has gained the support of an overwhelming majority of Wisconsinites since 2013. It has passed overwhelmingly in every county and municipal advisory referendum that it has been on the ballot -- in nearly 30 counties. And 55 of Wisconsin's 72 County Boards have passed resolutions in support of non-partisan redistricting reform.
 
Your voice is needed to help push this much-needed reform forward in the Wisconsin Legislature. It is vitally important that you contact both your State Senator and your State Representative and tell them that you support Senate Bill 389/Assembly Bill 395 and that you expect for them to do so as well.
  
Please read this excellent, recent editorial about the need for the "Iowa Model" redistricting reform legislation from the Wisconsin State Journal.
 
We can and will eliminate partisan gerrymandering and get fair voting maps for Wisconsin!
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🗣 Your voice is needed. 🗣
 
Tell your legislators to listen to the people, do what's right for democracy, and pass redistricting reform in Wisconsin! Your legislators need to hear from YOU. Mapmakers need to hear loud and clear that We the People will not be excluded from the redistricting process or silenced by gerrymandering. Take action today. (This form makes it easy to directly contact your legislators.)

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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...


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Out of Control Campaign Spending and Weak Recusal Rules Undermine Wisconsin's Courts

Wednesday – June 2, 2021

Photo from S Bughdaryan on Unsplash 



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Wisconsin, from statehood in 1848 to about a decade and a half ago ago in 2007, had a national reputation for having one of the most respected, impartial, nonpartisan, fair and trusted state court systems in the nation.

Much of this was because there was a generally held belief among Wisconsinites of all political persuasions and ideologies that the courts should be “above politics as usual.” In order to maintain the confidence of the citizenry, judges and justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court had to be scrupulously nonpartisan and impartial and not be perceived as having been compromised by outside lobbying pressure, campaign contributions or other political influence.

For decades, this standard not only survived, but flourished, and as recently as the early 2000’s the Wisconsin Supreme Court was held up by legal experts across the country as the “gold standard” for how justices should be elected and serve once in office in a state supreme court. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals, the 72 county circuit courts and the hundreds of municipal court judges also were perceived as having the highest standards for impartiality, nonpartisanship and fairness. And while Wisconsin legislators fell into public disrepute in the aftermath of the worst political scandal in the state in a century — the legislative caucus scandal of 2001-2002 — the reputation of state courts was enhanced by the way they adjudicated those trials and in their execution of equal justice under the law.

However, the landscape began to shift 14 years ago when outside special interest groups for the first time began to pour millions of dollars into the election of two state Supreme Court justices, one each in 2007 and in 2008. The expenditures made by conservative business organizations, principally the Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, proved to be pivotal, particularly in 2008 when an incumbent justice was defeated in a nasty, vicious, scurrilous campaign in which a record amount of money was spent — more than $8 million. It marked only the second time in state history that an incumbent state Supreme Court justice was defeated.

Since then, big special interest money has been the norm in Wisconsin Supreme Court elections, culminating in the most expensive in history in 2020 when Dane County Circuit Court Judge Jill Karofsky defeated incumbent Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly and more than $10 million was spent – half of it by outside special interest groups.

And even more alarming, the “cancer” of big money special interest group spending is spreading to lower court elections. Earlier this year, hundreds of thousands of dollars of ideological, partisan, and out-of-state, conservative special interest money flowed into two Wisconsin Court of Appeals elections – one in northern Wisconsin and another near Milwaukee.

There had really been no recusal standard for justices or for other court judges receiving campaign contributions or benefiting from “independent” spending by outside interest groups prior to 2007 because campaign money was not a significant factor in judicial elections. Then things changed dramatically. In 2009, in reaction to the unprecedented amount of money spent in the 2007 and 2008 elections, the Wisconsin Supreme Court was petitioned to adopt a recusal rule that would force a justice to recuse her or himself from a case in which one of the parties in the case had donated $1,000 or more to a justice, either directly or to an outside special interest group spending in support of that justice’s campaign. It was rejected by a 4 to 3 vote.

The following year, in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its controversial Citizens United v. F.E.C. decision, which effectively opened the way for corporations and other outside groups to make unlimited expenditures on behalf of candidates, including judges. Despite this, and shortly thereafter, the Wisconsin Supreme Court voted 4 to 3 to adopt, verbatim, a recusal rule written by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and the Wisconsin Realtors Association, which said that justices could choose whether to recuse themselves from a case but that receiving a campaign contribution of any size from one or more of the parties need not disqualify them from adjudicating the case. This was essentially, no recusal standard at all.

In 2011, the Wisconsin Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker repealed the Impartial Justice Law, which had been enacted in 2009 and had provided full public financing of elections of candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court who voluntarily agreed to limit their total spending to $400,000. In 2015, Walker and the Legislature repealed longstanding prohibitions on campaign coordination between candidates and “independent” outside interest groups, thereby effectively eviscerating contribution limits for all elections in Wisconsin and making judicial elections much more partisan.

The result of all these actions has been that much more money, most of it undisclosed and unregulated, is flowing into elections in Wisconsin, including into nonpartisan judicial elections at all levels. It was in this context and very different and new political environment that 54 retired jurists from all over Wisconsin, including two former state Supreme Court justices, petitioned the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2017 to adopt strong and clear recusal rules for justices and judges at all levels with specific thresholds that would trigger mandatory recusal. Wisconsin was found to have the fourth weakest judicial recusal rules in the nation and these retired jurists sounded the alarm.

But a conservative majority of five justices voted against conducting any public hearings on the petition and similarly, in April of 2017, by the same 5 to 2 vote the Supreme Court rejected the petition of the retired jurists and kept the current policy of “self-recusal” in place.

In late 2017, Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, N.C., polled Wisconsinites on a number of issues, including two on judicial elections and recusal rules. The answers to the two questions showed that 83% of Wisconsinites strongly or somewhat support greater disclosure of campaign contributions and less spending in judicial elections, while only 10% strongly or somewhat oppose greater disclosure and money. Similarly, 82% of Wisconsinites strongly or somewhat favor the adoption of stronger recusal rules for judges while only 12% strongly or somewhat oppose them. Clearly, citizens in Wisconsin support stronger election campaign finance disclosure, less spending and stronger judicial recusal rules.

Currently, greater spending in judicial elections at all levels and weak recusal rules that compromise the integrity of judges and undermine citizen confidence in the courts have combined to tear down the once highly regarded impartiality and untainted reputation Wisconsin courts held nationally less than two decades ago. Can we reverse this calamitous slide downward and regain the trust of our citizenry?

The answer is yes. By adopting strong recusal rules, reinstituting public financing of elections, limiting campaign spending and enhancing disclosure we can reclaim our courts at all levels. It’s a tall order and big task but one we need to undertake in order to restore fairness and justice for all.

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Guest columnist Jay Heck
For the past 25 years, Jay Heck has been the Executive Director of Common Cause in Wisconsin. He is the chief spokesperson and leads the organization in all facets of its operation.

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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

Read More...