After Losing, Wisconsin Republicans Are Trying to Subvert Democracy. They Will Fail.

Scott Walker’s time in office is ending as it began—with an attack on voting rights. But it will only backfire on the GOP.

Scot Ross

Scott Walker and the GOP have made one thing clear: they are sore losers. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The final act of Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walker’s quar­ter-cen­tu­ry in pub­lic office opened with state Repub­li­cans suf­fer­ing mas­sive defeats in the midterm elec­tions, los­ing every statewide office on the ballot. 

The GOP attack on early voting stands out as especially egregious because it exposes both a contempt for voters as well as the law.

The ver­dict of the vot­ers was clear, as was the Repub­li­can response. On Novem­ber 6, Wis­con­sinites said that they want­ed change, vot­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic up and down the bal­lot. Just days lat­er, mean­while, the GOP sent a clear mes­sage back that the Repub­li­can Par­ty doesn’t respect the will of the voters.

In the wan­ing days of their com­plete con­trol of state gov­ern­ment, Repub­li­cans con­vened an extra­or­di­nary leg­isla­tive ses­sion” packed with sweep­ing mea­sures to under­mine the results of elec­tions which they lost — and to inter­fere with the order­ly trans­fer of power.

The GOP attack on ear­ly vot­ing stands out as espe­cial­ly egre­gious because it expos­es both a con­tempt for vot­ers as well as the law.

In Novem­ber, over 2.67 mil­lion vot­ers cast bal­lots in Wis­con­sin — a record turnout for a midterm elec­tion. The his­toric par­tic­i­pa­tion was dri­ven in part by the suc­cess of ear­ly vot­ing. Rough­ly one of every five bal­lots cast was done ear­ly or absentee.

Com­mu­ni­ties began offer­ing ear­ly vot­ing up to six weeks before the elec­tion, on the week­ends and in the evenings and in satel­lite loca­tions like pub­lic libraries and com­mu­ni­ty centers.

In response to the results, the Repub­li­cans in con­trol of the state leg­is­la­ture adopt­ed leg­is­la­tion to lim­it the ear­ly vote to the two weeks pri­or to the elec­tion. The request for this ear­ly vot­ing crack­down was made by Assem­bly Repub­li­can leader Robin Vos’ office a mere eight days after the elec­tion, accord­ing to draft­ing records reviewed by One Wis­con­sin Now.

This isn’t the first time Repub­li­cans made such an attempt to rig the rules on vot­ing. And last time, their actions were found by a fed­er­al judge to be unconstitutional.

A fed­er­al court rul­ing in the 2016 vot­ing rights case One Wis­con­sin Insti­tute, et. al. v. Thom­sen, et. al. struck down restric­tions on the hours and days of ear­ly vot­ing imposed after 2011 by Wis­con­sin Repub­li­cans, claim­ing the con­straints were racially-motivated.

In his deci­sion, fed­er­al Judge James Peter­son found, Wisconsin’s restric­tions on the hours for in-per­son absen­tee vot­ing have had a dis­parate effect on African Amer­i­cans and Lati­nos. The court also finds that the legislature’s jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for these restric­tions was mea­ger, and that the intent was to secure par­ti­san advantage.”

Attor­ney Bruce Spi­va, who was on the legal team that argued the case, not­ed the leg­is­la­ture and its Repub­li­can lead­ers could run afoul of the court rul­ing if they fol­low through with a new effort to lim­it ear­ly voting.

The dis­play of dis­re­spect to vot­ers and the judi­cia­ry is all the more galling because leg­is­la­tors passed the vot­ing restric­tions know­ing full well what they were doing. The analy­sis pro­vid­ed to the leg­is­la­ture ahead of the vote by the non­par­ti­san Leg­isla­tive Fis­cal Bureau specif­i­cal­ly not­ed that the deci­sion in One Wis­con­sin Insti­tute et. al. v. Thom­sen et. al. held the pre­vi­ous GOP lim­its imposed on days and times of ear­ly vot­ing were unconstitutional.

Robin Vos and his fel­low Repub­li­cans are play­ing with legal fire as they con­tin­ue their attempts to rig the rules on vot­ing to give them­selves an unfair advan­tage. Vot­ers have stat­ed loud and clear they’ve had enough of this divi­sion by elect­ing Demo­c­rat Tony Evers as gov­er­nor and reject­ing Repub­li­can rule.

Democ­ra­cy exists only as long as elect­ed offi­cials do not put them­selves above the law.

As the cur­tain falls on Scott Walker’s gov­er­nor­ship, the final act clos­es much like the Walk­er saga start­ed, with Repub­li­can attacks on the rights of work­ing peo­ple — includ­ing the sacred right to vote.

Walker’s tale may be fin­ished, but the fight to pro­tect democ­ra­cy will con­tin­ue. And when it comes to pro­tect­ing the right to vote in the state of Wis­con­sin, we, the peo­ple, will write the final chapter.

Scot Ross is the Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of One Wis­con­sin Now and One Wis­con­sin Institute.
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