A voting ward sign in Milwaukee County. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
David Becker, executive director of The Center for Election Innovation & Research (CEIR) and co-author of “The Big Truth: Upholding Democracy in the Age of the Big Lie,” said Tuesday that Wisconsin is “on the top of my list” of places that could be engulfed by chaos after the 2024 election.
False claims of voter fraud and bullying of election officials is at an all-time high, Becker said during a Zoom press conference with reporters around the country.
CEIR’s election worker Legal Defense Network is receiving as many calls about threats and harassment now as it did just after it was created in September 2021, he added. “That tells you how bad it’s been.”
While Becker’s focus is nationwide, he expressed particular concern about the Wisconsin Senate’s recent vote to remove the state’s election administrator, Meagan Wolfe, from office. In 2021, Becker joined a bipartisan group of more than 50 election officials around the country on a letter of support for Wolfe to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.
“It does seem as if she’s being punished for having done a remarkably good job in an election with very narrow margins because some people are unhappy with the result,” Becker said Tuesday.
On Thursday, GOP legislators brought forward a resolution to impeach her.
The scapegoating of Wolfe, and the state Senate vote to fire her last week after a committee hearing featuring election deniers airing a barrage of discredited theories, are symptoms of a growing threat to democracy in the United States, Becker suggested.
He warned about the potential for political violence instigated by deniers’ false claims.
“Imagine if instead of just one date in one place on Jan. 6, disinformation leads people who’ve been deluded … to attack election offices, vote counting centers, certification meetings, electors meetings?”
Becker praised the highly professional election workers in Wisconsin in the last presidential election: “I cannot stress enough how well Wisconsin election officials performed with one of the highest turnouts in the country … in the middle of a global pandemic where the margin was just over 20,000 votes. It is one of the great achievements of the American democratic process we’ve ever seen, and Wisconsin’s the epitome of it, and instead of being congratulated, they’re being attacked.”
Becker also lauded former Republican state Sen. Kathy Bernier, who was once an elections clerk herself and now chairs the state chapter of Keep Our Republic, which has been trying to tamp down election conspiracism, for having the courage to stand up to election deniers and push back on false narratives.
A lot is at stake, and Republican state officials who know better need to stop indulging wacky conspiracies and undermining voter confidence — and, in a ridiculously circular argument, claiming that there needs to be more exploration of discredited theories and more pressure on election workers because of the lack of voter confidence that they themselves are creating by indulging this stuff.
At the Tuesday press conference, Becker responded to a reporter’s question about claims made by conspiracy theorist Peter Bernegger, who was involved in Michael Gableman’s expensive, failed investigation into the 2020 election in Wisconsin and who, at the recent Senate hearing, called for Meagan Wolfe’s arrest. Bernegger also testified that the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), an organization with dozens of member states that use the system to learn when voters move or die, is a plot to give its employees across the country access to sensitive voter information.
Becker laughed in disbelief.
“I already said ERIC doesn’t have Social Security numbers. ERIC doesn’t have driver’s license numbers. ERIC doesn’t have birth dates,” he explained. He called Bernegger’s discredited claims “another case of whack-a-mole that is not worthy of discussion by people who are not qualified to analyze these kinds of things and don’t understand the first thing about how elections are run in the United States. “
This is not just partisan gamesmanship. As Becker said, “We’ve seen the potential for political violence in a state like Wisconsin.”
People like Bernegger and Douglas Frank, the “Johnny Appleseed of election fraud” whose podcasts have gained a following in Wisconsin, are stoking violent insurrection.
“I’m hopeful that there will be an effort by leaders in the state of both parties to speak the truth, to set the rules in advance as was done in 2020, and abide by those rules even if your candidate loses,” Becker said of the looming 2024 election in Wisconsin.
If his hopes don’t pan out, and Republican officials don’t consider the costs of flirting with conspiracy theorists and demagogues, we are headed into a very scary time.
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