Republicans sue Milwaukee over effort to get out the vote

By: - September 30, 2022 5:46 am
"No vote for you" sign

Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign

The city of Milwaukee, often called Wisconsin’s economic engine and for certain the state’s most populous city, continues to draw suspicion from Republicans who raised questions about voting practices there in 2020, when Donald Trump falsely claimed voter fraud deprived him of victory in the presidential election. In November, voters  across the state go to the polls to cast ballots in key races, including for governor and U.S. Senate. Recently, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican Party of Wisconsin filed an open records lawsuit against the city, including the mayor’s office and election commission.

The lawsuit seeks communications between city employees about a privately funded get-out-the-vote effort. On Sept. 12, Mayor Cavalier Johnson announced support for the privately funded campaign “Milwaukee Votes 2022,” which aims to boost voter turnout through door-to-door canvassing. While the city wouldn’t directly lead the effort, it would assist by adding a website widget to some pages.

Johnson stressed that the effort is non-partisan. “I’m not asking anybody to cast their ballots for one party or another or one candidate or another,” he said during a Sept.12 press conference. “What I’m asking is for people to participate in our process and to make sure that their voice is heard at the ballot box.” Republican groups, however, cast shade on the effort as a potentially illegal and inappropriate ploy to help Democrats win in November.

On Sept. 28 Empower Wisconsin, a conservative advocacy group, tweeted a quote from Wisconsin GOP executive director Mark Jefferson. “The Republican Party of Wisconsin is deeply concerned that cities like Milwaukee are working with Democrat operatives and partisan third party groups to get out the vote in a manner designed to tip the scales for Democrats.”

The open records lawsuit also  spreads doubt about election integrity in Milwaukee. It states that on Sept. 15 an assistant to Johnson acknowledged the request for records regarding Milwaukee Votes 2022, but didn’t provide an estimate as to when the records could be provided. The office stated that 19 requests had been made about the campaign, and that at least some of the records would be ready for release by between Set. 23 and Sept. 26.

The Republican groups moved to sue for the records. Among other things the lawsuit states, “As a result of foregoing, and significant concerns as to whether the city of Milwaukee is or will be administering the upcoming Nov. 8 2022 election in accordance with Wisconsin law, Plaintiffs submitted separate open records requests to Defendants related to ‘Milwaukee Votes 2022’ and ‘Milwaukee Votes.’”

Raising alarms about election integrity has become common

since the 2020 presidential election, when then-President Donald Trump lost to Joe Biden. In 2016, low voter turnout in the city of Milwaukee, where nearly 70% of the Black population is concentrated, opened a door for Trump to win the presidential election. This year, from the city’s North Side to the South Side, groups are organizing voters to go to the polls in November.


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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also awarded Holmes its 2021-2022 Media Openness Award for using the open records laws for investigative journalism. Holmes was also a finalist in the 2021 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards alongside the rest of the Wisconsin Examiner's staff. The Silver, or second place, award for Best Online Coverage of News was awarded to Holmes and his colleague Henry Redman for an investigative series into how police responded to the civil unrest and protests in Kenosha during 2020. Holmes was also awarded the Press Club's Silver (second-place) award for Public Service Journalism for articles focusing on police surveillance in Wisconsin.