Chief Inspector Megan Williamson processes absentee ballots at the Hawthorne Library on Madison’s East Side. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)
After two years of Republican agitation about election fraud and warnings that the 2022 midterm elections would be overrun by unruly and even violent election observers, the voters of Wisconsin were able to cast their ballots safely while the results have been accepted by the losing candidates.
In the early morning hours of Wednesday, candidates losing even tight races at the top of the ticket in Wisconsin conceded to their opponents — a major change from 2020 when the days after the election were used by former President Donald Trump to sow the seeds for what would later become the “stop the steal” movement and the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
On Tuesday, municipal clerks and poll workers across the state reported that voting was going on without any problems. Elena Hilby, the municipal clerk for the city of Sun Prairie outside of Madison, told the Wisconsin Examiner it had been “busy but really smooth” at polling places across town.
Ahead of the election, The Republican Party of Wisconsin reported that it had signed up massive numbers of poll observers to be ready and watching if there were any attempts at fraud. That large mobilization did not appear to have emerged, but even the observers who did show up with their minds on conspiracies about ballot dumps and stolen votes from 2020 didn’t report anything out of the ordinary.
At a polling place on UW-Madison’s campus, 70-year-old Karen Bruce arrived to observe the polls after hearing a radio ad urging people to sign up, saying she felt “maybe, things haven’t been as secure as they should be.”
Even though she told the Wisconsin Examiner she hadn’t seen anything wrong with the process at the campus polling place, Bruce said she’s still not confident in the security of the state’s elections.
As the votes were counted, the one slight hiccup in the day occurred at the city of Milwaukee’s central count location where tens of thousands of absentee ballots were being counted.
The central count method in Milwaukee, which allows a municipality to count all of its absentee ballots at one location rather than at each individual polling place, has drawn scrutiny from Republicans wary of the late-night reporting of results from the state’s largest city that tend to decide the winner. In 2018 and 2020, Gov. Tony Evers and President Joe Biden won the state after ballots from the city were finally added to the statewide total.
At central count there were a number of observers, including state Rep. Janel Brandtjen and Republican Wisconsin Elections Commissioner Robert Spindell. Both Brandtjen and Spindell have regularly played a role in the spread of election conspiracies in the state.
A number of times throughout the counting of the ballots, Republican observers objected to the methods being used, including how the envelopes containing the USB drives that housed the results were being sealed.
Despite that detour, Milwaukee’s votes were counted and statewide Republican candidates, in a departure from 2020, conceded their races after it became clear the math didn’t show a path to victory.
Gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels had been unclear if he’d accept the results ahead of the election. When asked that question directly in a debate, he dodged it, saying that once he was elected governor he would certify the results of the next election. In the week before Election Day, he also said that if elected, Republicans would never lose another election in Wisconsin again.
But on Tuesday evening, as the results in the Milwaukee suburbs showed him lagging behind where he needed to be to make up for the Democratic advantage in Milwaukee and Madison, the construction magnate conceded the race.
Republican candidate for attorney general, Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney, was running neck and neck with incumbent Democrat Josh Kaul and conceded the race while vote totals showed a mere 5,000 vote difference between the two candidates. Toney said after conceding he wanted to show “certainty” in the state’s election results.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, also a regular election conspiracy spreader, had said ahead of the election he wasn’t sure if he’d accept the results and even set up a web portal through which his supporters could report election fraud. In the end, it didn’t matter as Johnson pulled away from his opponent, Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. Barnes conceded the race Wednesday morning.
The end of the 2022 races is so far much quieter than in 2020 when the days and weeks after the election were filled with recounts and lawsuits as Trump searched for a way to overturn the results. Each procedural step was weaponized as a potential weak point.
In 2022, those steps will go back to being largely ceremonial. By Nov. 14 municipal boards of canvass are required to have certified their local election results, at which point the county boards of canvass will check and certify the countywide events. Finally, on Nov. 22 the Wisconsin Elections Commission will officially certify the state’s results.
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