Don’t be fooled by the Republicans’ election circus

Election ‘investigations’ and gerrymandering are all part of the same game

October 11, 2021 7:00 am
Right-wing protesters gather outside the Maricopa County Elections Department on Nov. 4, 2020, demanding that all ballots for Donald Trump be counted. Inside the building, election workers were busy counting hundreds of thousands of ballots. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Right-wing protesters gather outside the Maricopa County Elections Department on Nov. 4, 2020, demanding that all ballots for Donald Trump be counted. Inside the building, election workers were busy counting hundreds of thousands of ballots. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman is acting like a clown. First he threw in with far-right conspiracy theorists and claimed without evidence that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from Donald Trump. Then he put on a suit and tie and accepted $680,000 of taxpayers’ money, courtesy of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, to run an “investigation” of the 2020 election, which he somberly declared could involve subpoenas to local elections clerks who must prove to him there was no election fraud. On Thursday, he backed off the subpoenas. Then, on Friday, he declared that the subpoenas were on again.

Apparently offended by the mockery that has accompanied his ever-shifting announcements, on Saturday Gableman released a defensive, seven-minute video on YouTube attempting to justify himself.

Meanwhile, a judge has ordered Gableman and the overseers his partisan investigation in the Legislature to turn over records, noting that while Gableman has been demanding reams of information from local elections officials, he has, at the same time, unjustifiably refused to provide records of his own investigation to the public.

Former Justice Michael Gableman | Screenshot from YouTube
Former Justice Michael Gableman | Screenshot from YouTube

The shoddiness of that investigation has been matched only by its aggressiveness, as Gableman threatened local officials and demanded information via a non-secure gmail account.

It’s a shame that Wisconsin Republicans continue to prop up the Big Lie. Last week Assembly Elections Committee chair Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), who has launched her own election “investigation” was in the Capitol ushering a news crew from the conspiracy-minded, pro-Trump One America News Network into the Assembly parlor to interview “concerned citizens” about examples of voting fraud they claimed to have witnessed.

The clown car keeps on rolling.


Ringling Bros. Circus } Jay Rath
Ringling Bros. Circus | Jay Rath

On Tuesday, Gableman admitted to Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he does not know how elections work. “Most people, myself included, do not have a comprehensive understanding or even any understanding of how elections work,” he said.

On Thursday, Gableman reversed course and cancelled interviews he had demanded with the mayors and city clerks of Madison, Racine and Kenosha and backed off on the subpoenas he had issued them just days before. 

“Attorney Gableman said he doesn’t know how elections are run in Wisconsin and I think what he’s made clear is that he doesn’t know how investigations are run either,” Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway told the Journal Sentinel. 

On Friday Gableman reversed himself again, telling conservative talk radio host Dan O’Donnell, “I’ll tell you what, they’re going to show up now. All of them.”

Gableman personifies the know-nothingism that has gripped the Republican Party in the era of Trump. 

Bullying is now a standard political tactic. As is hurling accusations of “fraud” without a shred of evidence or expertise and proposing to blow up our democratic institutions. It’s all nonsense — just a way to fire up the base that wants to believe the Big Lie that Trump won, and more insidious lies about the need to crack down on “illegal” voting — particularly by people of color in Democratic-leaning cities.

While Gableman is busy casting doubt on the integrity of our elections, having been assigned that role by Robin Vos, Vos is getting ready to redraw Wisconsin’s voting maps. Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) have declared their intention to draw new districts, as required by law after the 2020 census, that closely hew to the same lines as the current, gerrymandered map, drawn by Republicans in 2011 to give themselves a disproportionately large number of seats and disproportionate power. Republican legislative leaders have said they’ll vote on a redistricting plan by Nov. 11.

Fair maps, like election integrity, is an area where Republicans are trying to game the system while waging a campaign of misinformation and distraction to keep the public from noticing what they’re doing. 

Counties for Fair Maps
Counties that have passed fair maps resolutions | Wisconsin Democracy Campaign

A huge majority of Wisconsinites of every political stripe want fair maps. In a Marquette University Law School poll, 72% of Wisconsin voters said they wanted a nonpartisan commission to draw the legislative and congressional district maps instead of elected officials. That group included 63% of Republicans, 76% of independents, and 83% of Democrats.

It is too bad that Gov. Tony Evers’ People’s Maps Commission released draft maps before vetting them to make sure they comply with the Voting Rights Act. Only now, after releasing its first round of drafts, is the commission consulting with an expert to make sure the maps are in line with the federal voting law. That has opened the door for the Republican authors of the current, rigged map, to accuse Evers and the commission of “gerrymandering”

But if the People’s Maps Commission is gerrymandering on behalf of the Democratic governor, it is not doing a very good job. All of its draft maps would continue to favor Republican majorities in the Legislature. That’s because Republicans make up the majority of voters in Wisconsin’s rural counties, scattered across the state, while Democratic voters are concentrated in a handful of urban areas. 

The commission, in consultation with citizens throughout the state and a team of mathematicians from Tufts University came up with maps that make sense to local people, and in which Wisconsin remains a divided state with a slight Republican edge in legislative races — just not the disproportionate edge Vos and his cronies now enjoy.

Over the next few weeks we’re bound to hear more noise about how keeping the current, rigged districts is somehow more fair than an impartial map that truly represents Wisconsinites’ voting preferences. Don’t believe it. 

Just as the Republicans are seeking to shut down access to the ballot box for people they don’t think will vote for them, they want to rig the maps to favor them again. It’s all part of the same strategy — endlessly litigating the legitimate outcome of elections when they don’t like the results, making it harder for people to vote when they know they can’t win fair and square, rigging the map so even when they lose they win.

They are hell bent on undermining democracy. And it seems they don’t mind making fools of themselves in the process. If we let them get away with it, we’ll be letting them make fools of us, too.

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Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. 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. Her book "Milked: How an American Crisis Brought Together Midwestern Dairy Farmers and Mexican Workers" won the 2022 Studs and Ida Terkel Award from The New Press.