Democratic senators, voting rights groups call for Spindell’s removal from WEC

By: - January 19, 2023 7:00 am
Bob Spindell testifying at legislative election hearing via WisEye

Wisconsin Elections Commissioner Bob Spindell |WisEye

Wisconsin Senate Democrats and voting rights groups have called for Wisconsin Elections Commissioner Robert Spindell to resign or be removed from his post after comments he made celebrating the suppression of Black and Hispanic votes in last year’s midterm elections. 

The comments, which Spindell made in a memo to members of the 4th Congressional District Republican Party, were first reported by Urban Milwaukee. In the memo, Spindell, who is also the chair of the district party, cites the party’s work getting Black voters not to turn out as a key reason for U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s re-election. 

“In the City of Milwaukee, with the 4th Congressional District Republican Party working very closely with the RPW, RNC, Republican Assembly & Senate Campaign Committees, Statewide Campaigns and RPMC in the Black and Hispanic areas, we can be especially proud of the City of Milwaukee (80.2% Dem Vote) casting 37,000 less votes than cast in the 2018 election with the major reduction happening in the overwhelming Black and Hispanic areas,” he wrote. 

On Wednesday, all of the 11 Senate Democrats denounced the comments and called for Spindell to resign or for Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) — who appointed Spindell — to remove him. 

“In Wisconsin, our election officials should be working to ensure that every single eligible voter should be able to cast their ballot freely and fairly,” Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison) said. “We don’t need election officials bragging about suppressing voters and especially voter turnout in historically disenfranchised communities. Celebrating voter suppression is antithetical to the mission of the elections commission and it undermines confidence in the ability of Mr. Spindell to do his job. In fact, Spindell’s remarks are disqualifying.”

Spindell, the most right-wing of the three Republicans on the six-person commission, has a long history of statements and actions aimed at undermining Democratic voters in Milwaukee. 

In the runup to the 2020 election, after the commission chose not to allow Kanye West onto the presidential ballot for turning in his nominating papers late, Spindell often complained about how that decision would prevent Black voters from being able to choose the rapper, whose candidacy was seen as a spoiler for Democrats, potentially pulling votes away from Democratic candidate Joe Biden. 

“How about Kenyon (sic.) West?” Spindell complained at a rally in December of 2020 as he listed a number of actions he perceived as nefarious plots by the Democratic party. 

Spindell also worked to get the Green Party’s presidential candidate on the 2020 ballot after the party failed to properly file its nominating papers. Emails showed that Spindell assisted Green Party officials in finding a Wisconsin-based attorney to file a lawsuit attempting to force their candidate onto the ballot in the hopes that the presence of the Green Party would pull votes away from Democrats. 

Spindell was also one of 10 Republicans who cast false Electoral College votes on behalf of former President Donald Trump in 2020, attempting to install Trump as president even though he’d lost the election in Wisconsin. 

Despite Spindell’s previous actions, Democrats said that his comments in the memo were a bridge too far and grounds for his ouster. 

“I think there have certainly been many folks, myself included, who have called for Spindell to resign for his many infractions that undermine confidence in his ability to be a commissioner,” Roys said. “I think what’s different about this is how blatant it is.” 

Roys said that LeMahieu and the Republicans who control the Senate have made a number of comments at the beginning of this legislative session stating their desire for working together and bipartisanship. She said removing Spindell would be an opportunity for Republicans to prove they mean it and that they believe they can win elections with their ideas and not by working to suppress votes in Milwaukee. 

“The fact that the Republican party and particularly Senate Majority Leader LeMahieu has stated that he wants to turn over a new leaf, he wants to work together with Gov. Evers … this is an opportunity for him to be true to his words,” Roys said. “These comments are of public import to every citizen of WIsconsin, whether you’re a member of a disenfranchised community or not. We all want our vote to be cast and counted fairly. Spindell’s continued presence on WEC is an affront to that.” 

Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee), one of the few Black members of the Senate, said that as someone who “works tirelessly” for her Milwaukee community, she finds it personally insulting that Spindell would celebrate keeping her constituents from the polls. 

“As an African-American, a person of color and an elected official who works tirelessly in this building trying to improve the lives of the residents of Milwaukee and communities of color, I am angry, I am irritated and I am frustrated that Bob Spindell, a Republican member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, whose job is to help control how elections are administered, has praised the public attack on the voting rights of communities of color and the principles of democracy,” Johnson said. 

Johnson said that the Republican party has ignored communities of color in Wisconsin and its agenda has left out the poor communities in and around her district but added that comments such as Spindell’s don’t go unnoticed. 

“Black and Hispanic people, their lives, their quality of life and the racial disparities that plague our communities and continue to worsen year after year hold no importance to the Republican party or their agenda,” she said. “I just want the Republican party and Bob Spindell to know that communities of color are not stupid.”


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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.