The Larson Report

Progressive Perspectives from State Senator Chris Larson


Dear neighbor,


Last fall, I began a four-part series of
Larson Report’s entitled “Democracy in Distress.” In “Part 2: Suppression of Opposition,” I outlined a number of ways that Republicans in the Walker years made voting more difficult, including voter ID, voter roll purges, and various other changes. Since then, Former President Trump and his allies in Congress and statehouses across the country, including right here in Wisconsin, have pursued a line of argument known commonly as “The Big Lie,” which alleges (without credible evidence) that the November 2020 election was somehow stolen from Donald Trump. 


Rioters storm the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021


The January 6th Insurrection put a brief pause on such rhetoric, but before long people like Wisconsin state Senators Duey Stroebel and Alberta Darling were hard at work, crafting a whole new round of anti-democratic legislation drafted under the assumption that the “Big Lie” was true, and required swift action from the legislature.

They weren’t alone. This effort has been coordinated nationwide in states with Republican-controlled legislatures, with the state of Georgia being the most famous example. In fact, a recently leaked video shows that it wasn’t just coordinated among GOP legislators, it was bought and paid for by right-wing dark money group “Heritage Action.” 

Let me be clear: the 2020 election - in Wisconsin and across the country - was one of the most secure in our history, and we have no reason to question its outcomes, from local races and Congress to the Presidency itself. Every court case that was brought attempting to show otherwise has been dismissed outright or otherwise failed to overturn the outcome of a single race. I wanted to take a moment to outline what election-related changes are being proposed here in Wisconsin, why they matter, and what can be done about them.

The Bills

Out of the flurry of election-related legislation being proposed this session, I have identified 15 that either directly suppress the vote, contain undemocratic elements, or are simply burdensome and unnecessary. To check these bills out for yourself, click on their Senate Bill numbers in the chart below:

61

203

204

205

206

207

209

210

211

212

213

214

268

284

292


I’d like to call special attention to SB 61. This bill seeks to allocate Wisconsin’s electoral votes by Congressional District instead of by statewide popular vote. This would allow one party’s nominee to receive the majority of Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes even if they lost the statewide election. If this bill had been in place for the 2020 election, Trump would have received 6 electoral votes and Biden only 4, even though Biden won the state by over 29,000 votes. That’s right, this GOP-backed bill would have actually overturned Wisconsin’s presidential election.

While none of the other bills are quite as extreme as SB 61, there are many, many problems to be found. These include, but are not limited to: 

  • Imposing new mandates on local election officials (SB 212)
  • Forbidding municipalities from accepting any grants to assist with elections administration unless shared with the entire state (SB 207)
  • Forbidding you from helping return your elderly neighbor’s absentee ballot (SB 203)
  • Forbidding issue advocates from serving as poll workers (SB 207)
  • Requiring that election observers be allowed to get within 3 feet of voters and vote counting tables (SB 210)
  • Limiting cities to one ballot drop box - regardless of population (SB 203)
  • Reducing the time period ballot drop boxes can be used to 14 days before the election (SB 203)
  • Requiring indefinitely confined voters to get a doctor’s signature to vote using this status (SB 206)
  • Allowing residents of other parts of the state to bring legal action against your election clerks (SB 213)

Why They Matter

Some of the proposed changes listed above are obviously wrong, and will likely suppress the vote. Others may seem rather innocuous at first, but upon closer inspection are every bit as harmful as the others. Still others may have little practical effect thanks to counter-efforts that would surely be undertaken by voting rights advocates, but the very fact that they are being proposed at all is a direct nod to the grossly mistaken notion that our elections as they are now are somehow not free and fair. I will shout this from the rooftops if I have to - they are free and they are fair. In fact, we ought to be going in the opposite direction from restricting the vote to making it more accessible to more people than ever before. More on that later.

Who would be affected most if all of these GOP-backed bills were to be enacted tomorrow? Probably the most affected would be the disabled community. To quote Melanie Conklin from the Wisconsin Examiner

“Many of the voting changes being proposed in the name of stopping fraud — despite its having been proven to be virtually nonexistent — appear designed to create obstacles for Democratic voters, particularly those who live in larger cities. The same measures also hurt voters with disabilities, residents of group homes and the elderly who do not fit into a red or blue partisan profile and would be among the Wisconsinites most likely to be disenfranchised by such bills, were they to become law.” - WI Examiner

Besides disabled Wisconsinites, those in big cities and small towns alike have reason for concern. One bill would allow municipalities of less than 35,000 residents to combine polling places with adjacent towns and villages, which could potentially increase the driving distance for some voters by multiple miles. The measure that would limit absentee ballot drop boxes to one per municipality would clearly impact Milwaukee in a big way, as about half-million residents would be expected to share just one drop box downtown.

While it seems that many of these bills were written with the intent to disadvantage Democrats, it’s clear from the above that people of all political stripes are at risk, should any of them be signed into law. Thankfully, all indications are that as long as Governor Evers is in office, these suppressive bills will be vetoed as soon as they reach his desk. So far, five of them have passed one house of the legislature (SB 203, 207, 210, 213, and 292), but none have yet been sent to the Governor. That could change in the next few weeks as more of them make their way through committees or move from one house to the other for final passage.

What Can Be Done

As I mentioned before, the good news is that in the short term, we don’t have to worry about these bills becoming law. That does not mean we should rest easy. If you believe that Wisconsin’s elections are free and fair, and that we should be expanding the right to vote, not limiting it, here are some things you can do to proactively protect voting rights in our state.

  1. Contact your representatives and let them know you oppose the bills listed above. Don’t know who your rep is or how to get in contact? Simply type your address in the top-right of the following website: https://maps.legis.wisconsin.gov/ 
  2. Ask your representatives to support bills that expand voter access, including automatic voter registration, expanded early voting dates and hours (including weekend voting), or even universal vote-by-mail
  3. Thank Governor Evers for standing up for voting rights, giving him the support he needs to stand strong in his pledge to veto any bill that makes it harder to vote

Up Next: Our Maps

This September, the U.S. Census Bureau is expected to release final 2020 Census data for Wisconsin, which will be used to draw our legislative maps for the next 10 years. Republicans are already hard at work trying to create maps that protect their partisan gerrymander. On April 29th, a Dane County judge voided contracts signed by Rep. Robin Vos and Sen. Devin LeMahieu for private lawyers - paid for at taxpayer expense - who would handle future redistricting cases. This doesn’t mean they’ll stop trying (they spent $4 million defending the current gerrymander in court during the Walker years), but it does mean we need to be vigilant as the map-drawing process unfolds this fall.


May 17, 2021 rally at the WI State Capitol. Pictured: Sen. Jeff Smith and Rep. Deb Andraca


Last month, I hosted a town hall on the topic of Gerrymandering with UWM Professor Matt Petering, which you can watch HERE. My Democratic colleagues Senator Jeff Smith and Representative Deb Andraca just introduced a bill to ensure Wisconsin’s maps are drawn in a non-partisan, fair way. I am proud to co-sponsor this bill.

Thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter. I treasure the opportunity to serve you in the state Senate, and I promise to keep fighting for you as long as I hold this office.

 

In service,

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The Larson Report - Democracy in Distress


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