Voting Cancelled sign via Flickr
Over the past few weeks, months, and even years, dozens of challenges have been mounted to Wisconsin’s election laws and how our clerks run elections. A close look reveals that a small handful of conspiracy theorists and right-wing movement lawyers are driving these lawsuits and administrative complaints. These actors have clearly defined, antidemocratic interests that are not aligned with what most Wisconsinites want from their government. Who are these people so determined to block the will of the people and reshape our elections, and what do they want?
- The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) has filed at least three lawsuits in state courts this year challenging various aspects of early and absentee voting, and also often files complaints with the Wisconsin Elections Commission. WILL is an arch-conservative advocacy organization whose top priorities include privatizing public education, opposing commonsense gun safety policies, and attacking the humanity of transgender young people. WILL is funded primarily by the right-wing Bradley Foundation. WILL’s recent successes include eliminating drop boxes and absentee ballot return assistance for Wisconsin voters (Teigen v. WEC) and helping to convince the Wisconsin Supreme Court to adopt the nation’s most egregious partisan gerrymander (Johnson v. WEC).
- The St. Thomas More Society is a Chicago-based right-wing Catholic nonprofit that entered the fray of election law in the lead-up to the 2020 elections. The St. Thomas More Society’s agenda had historically focused on banning abortion and prohibiting government from protecting the civil rights of the LGBTQ community. This year, St. Thomas More attorneys have worked closely with Michael Gableman’s (now-closed) Office of Special Counsel to harass and intimidate Wisconsin mayors, attempting to cast doubt on the 2020 election results. We do not know who funds the Society, and that is by design: it took its refusal to disclose its funders all the way to the US Supreme Court and won. The St. Thomas More Society’s election litigation has mostly failed so far, including repeated challenges to five Wisconsin cities’ acceptance of private non-profit funds to help ensure safe elections during the pandemic.
- The law firm of Conway, Olejniczak & Jerry S.C. represents the plaintiffs in two recent lawsuits: White v. WEC, a challenge to the Wisconsin Elections Commission guidance about correcting minor defects in witness addresses on absentee ballot envelopes, and Kormanik v. WEC, a challenge to guidance about spoiling and re-voting absentee ballots. The firm also represented President Donald Trump in his unsuccessful effort to overturn the 2020 election results in Wisconsin. The current lawsuits are funded by a new dark-money group in DC, Restoring Integrity and Trust in Elections (RITE), which is funded by casino magnate Steve Wynn and led by Trump’s Attorney General, William Barr.
- Attorneys Kevin Scott and Joseph Voiland represent the plaintiff in Archambault v. WEC, seeking to prevent the Wisconsin Elections Commission from issuing any guidance to help Wisconsin’s 1,850 municipal clerks administer elections. These attorneys have also represented Gableman in his baseless efforts to intimidate and jail five Wisconsin mayors for declining to sit for secret depositions as part of Gableman’s so-called “investigation” into the 2020 election. That sham investigation failed to provide any new information about the election. Mr. Voiland also represented Senator Ron Johnson in the Teigen case before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, advocating for the elimination of drop boxes and ballot return assistance.
These right-wing lawyers and their funders have a clear agenda: if their public policies and candidates cannot win the contest of ideas in free and fair elections, they will stop at nothing to undermine free and fair elections. Their tactics are particularly bold considering that conservative Republican lawmakers actually built our election administration system. The Wisconsin Elections Commission was created under one-party Republican rule in 2015. In 2016, when then-candidate Donald Trump won the presidential election in Wisconsin, nobody from WILL or the St. Thomas More Society had any problem with the absentee voting process—the same process in place in 2018, 2020, and now 2022. Fast-forward to 2020 and then-Vice President Joe Biden’s victory in Wisconsin, and suddenly, the right-wing agenda favored by WILL and the St. Thomas More Society was in danger. So, they began to attack the very systems their allies had created.
Wisconsin’s elections are and have been free, fair, and secure. Instead of trying to win elections fair and square, right-wing activists are deploying a different strategy: find a way to stop so many people from voting.
Most Wisconsinites, including conservative Wisconsinites, do not share the extreme agenda of these far-right actors. By huge margins, Wisconsinites want fair maps, common-sense gun safety measures, good public schools, and freedom to make their own healthcare decisions. The conservative activists and lawyers behind the recent attacks on Wisconsin’s free and fair elections do not share these values. Their aim, funded by rightwing billionaires, is to undermine our election system and create barriers to voting so Wisconsinites can’t participate in our democracy and ensure a future with the freedoms and resources for all our communities. Join us in fighting back—register to vote and make sure your networks are registered. If you are able, you can also help by volunteering as a poll worker or election observer this election season.
Update: An earlier version of this story mentioned the White v. WEC lawsuit, which was described as “currently pending”. The lawsuit is no longer pending and the story has been updated to reflect that change.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.