Tammy Baldwin, advocates say voters are energized to defend Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat

A resident waits in line to vote at a polling place in Milwaukee for the April 7, 2020, primary election. Residents waited sometimes more than two hours to vote at this site, one of the few polling places open in the city after most were consolidated due to a shortage of poll workers fearful of contracting COVID-19. Photo by Scott Olson | Getty Images
A resident waits in line to vote at a polling place in Milwaukee for the April 7, 2020, primary election. Residents waited sometimes more than two hours to vote at this site, one of the few polling places open in the city after most were consolidated due to a shortage of poll workers fearful of contracting COVID-19. Photo by Scott Olson | Getty Images

As absentee voting began this week in Wisconsin, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and advocates with the Save the Vote Campaign held a press conference to outline the high stakes in the November election.  

Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United and Let America Vote described the fight to defend the legacy of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday.

“Over the past decade, as the conservative majority began dismantling our voting and campaign finance laws, Justice Ginsburg sits firmly on the side of the people and on the side of democracy,” Muller said. She cited Ginsbrug’s dissent in the Shelby County v. Holder decision which gutted the Voting Rights Act, and which Ginsburg called “hubris” as well as her characterization of Citizens United as the worst decision the Court had made during her tenure. “I know all of us are committed to carrying on her legacy,” Muller said.

Pointing to a report released this week by Baldwin and other Senate Democrats that outlines the role of dark money in efforts to undermine healthcare and reproductive rights and stack the courts with rightwing judges, Muller added, “These issues are all connected. The rightwing judges Republicans are putting on our courts are also undermining the right to vote and rigging the system to give Republicans more power to put more rightwing judges on the court. And that’s why empowering voters is so key.”

Let America Vote, The Collective, and NARAL Pro-Choice America are members of the Save the Vote campaign, a group of political organizations  that are pooling their efforts to combat President Trump’s attacks on vote-by-mail, expose Republican voter suppression efforts and ensure Americans have the information they need to cast their ballots.

This week marks the first full week of absentee voting in Wisconsin and more than a million Wisconsin voters have already requested a mail-in ballot. 

The Wisconsin Election Commission estimates that as many as 80% of Wisconsin voters will vote absentee this election, a huge jump from the usual 6%.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin addresses the DNC LGBTQ Caucus meeting. (Zoom meeting screenshot).
Sen. Tammy Baldwin addresses the DNC LGBTQ Caucus meeting. (Zoom meeting screenshot).

Baldwin promoted the safety of absentee voting, despite the “lies” spread by the Trump administration aimed at undermining public confidence in mail-in voting. She described filling out her own application for an absentee ballot online. And, she noted, a recent federal court order extends the timeline for counting absentee ballots beyond election day (although Republican legislative leaders are now appealing the decision).

“I am encouraging all Wisconsin voters to request their absentee ballot today, if they haven’t done so already. Return it early to avoid any unforeseen or unnecessary delays,” Baldwin said. “You can request an absentee ballot by mail until October 29. But the U.S. Postal Service strongly recommends requesting your ballot, no later than October 19.”

THE MORNING NEWSLETTER
Subscribe now.

“We already knew that this was a cataclysmic election,” said Ilyse Hogue of NARAL Pro Choice America. But after Ginsburg passed away last Friday, “ the infusion of energy we have seen has been tremendous.”

“Both the stakes of the seat on the Supreme Court as well as the emotional blow of losing such a giant, such an icon, such a fighter with whom we felt safe on the bench … has led to just a massive outpouring,” Hogue added.

American support for Roe v. Wade is around 77%, Hogue pointed out.  “This is true in red states, purple states and blue states.”

Yet Republicans in the Senate are determined to replace Ginsburg with an anti-abortion justice who will overturn Roe.

“When you have a situation where a party is so out of touch with popular opinion,” Hogue said, “what happens is they start to undermine democracy to hold onto power and keep their way.”

Quentin James, founder and president of The Collective, a group that is focused on African American voting rights, said that one in five registered African American voters in Wisconsin has requested a ballot, and called the statistic “an extremely encouraging sign.” His group is spreading the word, he said, “that it is safe to vote, and the vote will be counted, and we’re gonna do everything we can to ensure that that happens.”

But as Republican senators, including Mitt Romney (R-Utah), express their determination to fill the Supreme Court seat left empty by Ginsburg’s death before a new president can take office, in defiance of her dying wish, even a Democratic sweep in the next election might not forestall a 6-3 conservative majority on the Court.  

So what is the plan?

“Step one is education,” said Baldwin, who added that the public needs to understand the stakes as, on Nov. 10 the Court is expected to take up a challenge that seeks to overturn the Affordable Care Act “during a pandemic, when everyone who has ever had a positive test for COVID-19 now has a pre-existing health condition.”

Senate Democrats will be releasing more reports about the Court’s impact, not just on healthcare and women’s reproductive freedom, which the current report covers, but also on labor rights and worker safety and election integrity.

As for the long odds Democrats now face, Baldwin said, “You know, we’ve been in a position that seemed impossible before. And that was when the Republicans had both houses of Congress and the presidency and President Trump was trying to legislatively overturn the Affordable Care Act.” The House of Representatives passed a bill overturning the ACA, but when it came to the Senate, “We had to convince our Republican colleagues that this is a matter of life and death for so many Americans and they’ve got to hear from us. And I see that process beginning now.”

Baldwin says her office has been flooded with calls, and she believes her colleagues’ are getting those calls, too. During the Senate ACA vote, public pressure prevailed when the late Sen. John McCain cast the deciding “no” vote with a dramatic thumbs-down gesture. 

In addition to public pressure, Baldwin said, “we will use every procedural tool” to stop the Republicans’ unprecedented rush to confirm a conservative to the Court just days before the election, or, potentially, during a lame duck session. 

But what if all that fails, as seems increasingly likely, given the united front the Republicans are putting up, with no McCain in sight? Would Baldwin go along with a Democratic plan to expand the number of justices on the Court (were Democrats to win both the White House and the Senate)?

“I don’t want to give up the fight and say, well, if we lose, then this is what we’ll do,” Baldwin demurred. “I’d rather be focused on the immediate battle, which is to try to stop this nomination from going through before the next president of the United States gets a chance to make that nomination. … That’s where we’re focused right now.”

Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC. Shortly after Donald Trump took office she moved with her family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three daughters.