Common Cause Wisconsin 2023 Year End Review
Fair Voting Maps, Voting Rights and Democracy Itself are At Stake in 2024
As we draw near to the end of an eventful and tumultuous 2023 in Wisconsin, it’s worthwhile taking a moment to look back and review some of the significant events that occurred this year in the ongoing battle for democracy and representative state government and, as we head into what may be the most important and consequential presidential election year in our state’s and nation’s almost 235-year-history.
In April, Wisconsin voters strongly signaled that after 15 years of an ultra-conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, they were ready for a more pro-voting rights, anti-partisan gerrymandering and progressive court that will be more supportive of a stronger and more inclusive democracy for our state. On April 4th, Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz overwhelmingly defeated conservative former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly, for the pivotal seat of retiring conservative Patience Roggensack in an election contest that drew the attention of the entire nation and which turned out to be, by far, the most expensive judicial election in American history, with an astounding $56 million spent by both candidates and outside groups.
Last month, on November 21st, oral arguments on the redistricting lawsuit case, Clarke v. W.E.C. occurred before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Fair voting maps rallies were held in Madison, Green Bay, Milwaukee and in Eau Claire in which CC/WI Board members and former Wisconsin legislators Tim Cullen and Penny Bernard Schaber spoke in an impressive display of grass roots public support for ending partisan gerrymandering throughout Wisconsin. A decision on the case from the court could happen at any time now and is fully expected before January 15, 2024. Stay tuned for this important development.
Meanwhile, in September in a desperate attempt to try to prevent the court from having the final say in the gerrymandering case, Assembly Republicans led by long-entrenched Speaker, Robin Vos, unveiled and launched a partisan attempt to maintain control of the redistricting process by suddenly adopting parts (but not the most critical elements) of the redistricting process CC/WI and other reformers have long embraced for Wisconsin based on the 43-year-old nonpartisan redistricting process utilized by our neighboring state of Iowa. The Vos “pseudo-Iowa model” legislation was devised without any consultation or discussion with reform groups like CC/WI, or with Democrats or with the Governor and was rammed through the Wisconsin Assembly in about 48 hours without a public hearing and almost entirely along party lines. The strong and united opposition to the process and content of the Vos plan has for now stopped the legislation from advancing through the State Senate thus far. At the single public hearing held on the legislation on October 19th, in which CC/WI led off the testimony against the deeply flawed and partisan legislation Senate Bill 488/Assembly Bill 415, it was telling that not a single person other than Republican legislators testified in support of the Vos/GOP pseudo-Iowa model bills while dozens lined up to speak and register against it. For now, thankfully, the legislation appears to be dormant, if not dead.
Elections, election administration and the Wisconsin Elections Commission all remained a source of continuing, albeit unnecessary and entirely manufactured controversy and dispute throughout 2023. A small but vocal coterie of election deniers and conspiracy theorists led by dis-credited legislators like State Rep. Janel Brandtjen of Menomonee Falls, disgraced former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman and others continued their baseless attacks and completely unjustified calls for the removal of the very able and competent Administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC), Meagan Wolfe and the dissolution of the WEC, which was created with unanimous and solely Republican support in 2015. In a dramatic and nationally covered public hearing (including in the New York Times) in the Capitol at the end of August, CC/WI testified strongly in favor of Administrator Wolfe. In October, Republican legislators were forced to admit that they did not possess the legal authority or ability to remove Wolfe from the WEC despite voting entirely along party lines to do so. Their “symbolic” action and abusive rhetoric only served to sow further dissension and confusion in order to appease their unhinged, far-right wing base. But for now, these misguided attempts to remove Wolfe have not prevailed and she remains in her position.
Likewise, the composition of the WEC Commission has been divisive and controversial with the actions of Republican-appointed Commissioner Robert Spindell of Milwaukee County who has often aligned with election deniers and conspiracy theorists. Last January and again in February, CC/WI called for Spindell’s removal from the WEC for racially charged comments he made following the 2022 midterm election with regard to voter turnout in majority-minority districts in Milwaukee. Then, earlier this month, Spindell was admonished and forced to admit his deception in a settlement as one of the ten Republican “false” electors who attempted to supplant the electors for now-President Joe Biden who carried the state by more than 20,000 votes in 2020. CC/WI reiterates our support for his removal from the WEC. As of now, Republican State Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu is standing by his reappointment of Spindell to the WEC.
What will 2024 bring as Wisconsin again enters the national spotlight as one of the three or four “battleground” states in the nation that will determine the winner of the upcoming presidential election? We hope that the upcoming new year will bring fairer state legislative voting maps to be put into place by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the continued strong administration of critical elections in Wisconsin by the Wisconsin Elections Commission and Administrator Meagan Wolfe, and an informed, engaged and highly motivated voter turnout by Wisconsinites of every age group and from every corner of the state in a powerful demonstration of strong participation and confidence in the democratic process and in the freedom and ability to give voice to the citizenry through the ballot box.
The state governing board and staff of Common Cause Wisconsin also thank you for your support and interest in our work during 2023, and wish you a very happy holiday season and a healthy and hopeful New Year.
Forward and On Wisconsin!