Election and vaccine conspiracies abound in Assembly Committee on Constitution and Ethics hearing

By: - January 6, 2022 6:29 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

In a public hearing of the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Constitution and Ethics on Wednesday, Republicans agreed with and shared conspiracy theories and misinformation about a variety of topics, disparaging the state’s election security and the effectiveness of vaccines against COVID-19. 

The committee held hearings on a resolution that would start the process for amending the state constitution’s provision concerning  who is qualified to vote and a bill that would allow people who have been infected with COVID-19 to use their so-called “natural immunity” to bypass vaccine and testing mandates. 

Also on the committee’s agenda was a joint resolution that would call for a convention of states that would propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would permanently set the number of justices on the Supreme Court at nine. The committee did not address this resolution. 

With just two Democrats on the committee, who were frequently not in the room or remained silent during the discussions, the committee’s deliberations ramped up as members of the public and representatives went back and forth repeating right-wing theories about two of the most controversial issues of the last year. 

Assembly Joint Resolution 54 begins the process to amend the state’s constitution. To amend the constitution, the resolution would need to be approved by two consecutive Legislatures and then by a majority of votes in a general election. 

The resolution, introduced by Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna), would change one word in the state’s constitution. 

Currently, the constitution says that “Every United States citizen age 18 or older who is a resident of an election district in this state is a qualified elector of that district.” If amended under the resolution, the constitution would say “Only a United States citizen age 18 or older who is a resident of an election district in this state is a qualified elector of that district.” 

A staff member for the Legislative Council at the hearing said that this provision has been in the state’s constitution in some form since the 1880s. 

Republicans say this change is necessary because a few municipalities in other states, such as San Francisco, have changed their laws to allow non-citizen residents to vote in local elections. Even with these local laws, noncitizens are not able to vote in state or federal elections in those municipalities. 

Members of the public and Republicans used conspiracies about the 2020 election as a catalyst for the constitutional amendment — even though they admitted that it won’t functionally change anything about how elections are administered in the state. 

“A large amount of the country is concerned about the last election,” one speaker stated as her reason for supporting the amendment. 

Rep. Chuck Wichgers (R-Muskego), the committee’s chairman, said repeatedly that the amendment is required because he wants to counter the belief that every vote should count, saying repeatedly that’s a “narrative” that isn’t necessarily true. 

“We see that the narrative of ‘We have to count every vote’ has really gotten some legs,” Wichgers said. 

Later in the hearing, Rep. Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie) asked Wichgers if he could name any examples of noncitizens voting in Wisconsin. Wichgers didn’t answer the question, but did say Wisconsin has been inundated with immigrants and refugees. 

“But I think some of my colleagues could share some of the stories with you about what’s happened in the state of Wisconsin over the last year with open borders, and refugees coming to our country in the thousands,” Wichgers said.

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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.

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