Democratic Party chair: ‘All legal options are on the table’ after spring election debacle

By: - April 13, 2020 1:50 pm
Voces de la Frontera challenges anti-democratic Wisconsin election (Photo 4/6/20 submitted by Voces de la Frontera)

Voces de la Frontera challenges anti-democratic Wisconsin election (Photo courtesy of Voces de la Frontera)

In a press call on Monday morning, as Wisconsinites waited for April 7 election results to be announced late in the day, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez and Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Ben Wikler denounced Republicans for insisting on going forward with in-person voting. The pair suggested future legal action  in response to the disenfranchisement of Wisconsin voters, and urged an all vote-by-mail election on May 12 for the special election in Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District. 

headshot of Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Ben Wikler
Ben Wikler (photo courtesy of Democratic Party of Wisconsin)

“Republicans tried to steal Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election by weaponizing a deadly pandemic, because they believed that coronavirus would disproportionately suppress the votes of Democrats and especially African Americans,” Wikler said.

“Regardless of the results of the election tonight, it’s already clear Wisconsin, our democracy and families across our state have lost because of the choices of Robin Vos, Scott Fitzgerald, Republican state legislators, conservative justices on our state and national Supreme Court and Trump’s team at the Republican National Committee,” Wikler added. “What’s so painful about what happened in Wisconsin is that it’s not that the Republicans don’t understand the dangers of coronavirus; it’s that they clearly don’t care about the threat as much as they care about holding on to power.”

Wikler shared Democratic Party’s internal polling that showed 66% of Wisconsinites were very concerned about coronavirus, and 28% were somewhat concerned about coronavirus, yet 81% of Republicans and 85% of Democrats said voting was essential even during the pandemic.

Wikler called on Republicans in the state Legislature to take up a Democratic proposal for an all-mail-in vote in the 7th Congressional district special election on May 12. (In a call with media last week, Gov. Tony Evers indicated he was open to rescheduling that election, if needed.)

Perez noted that states across the country, including those with divided government, have been moving to voting by mail during the pandemic.

Tom Perez (Photo by Lonnie Tague for the United States Department of Justice).
Tom Perez (Photo by Lonnie Tague for the United States Department of Justice).

As the head of the civil rights division of the Department of Justice during the Obama administration, Perez said, “I saw Republican voter suppression across this country.”

He recalled his department’s work challenging a law in Texas that allowed voters to use their concealed-carry permits as a form of voter ID, but not university ID cards.

“We sued Florida, we sued Georgia, we sued so many states that were trying to make it harder for people to vote,” Perez said. “That is unconscionable, that is un-American. That is undemocratic. And what we saw in the state of Wisconsin last week was, frankly, something even worse. It was voter suppression on steroids. Because it was putting people’s lives in danger.”

Before the November general election, Perez said, voters “must have a choice” to vote by mail.

In Wisconsin, many voters who requested absentee ballots had not yet received them by Election Day, both Wikler and Perez pointed out. It was unjust, they assert, for the state  Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s extension on absentee voting, and requiring that all absentee ballots be postmarked by Election Day. 

“There’s no law in Wisconsin that describes a postmark rule for absentee ballots,” Wikler added. “The Supreme Court of the United States legislated from the bench to create a postmark [requirement].”

Responding to a question about possible challenges to the election results, Wikler said, “Every legal option is on the table. We’re in constant touch with attorneys as we gather new information.”

He added that, with 3,831 candidates total on ballots across the state, “It is hard to imagine a world where none of those candidates wind up looking for legal recourse as well.”

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Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC. Shortly after Donald Trump took office she moved with her family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Trump. Conniff is the author of "Milked: How an American Crisis Brought Together Midwestern Dairy Farmers and Mexican Workers" which won the 2022 Studs and Ida Terkel award from The New Press. She is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three daughters.