With all the fear about massive election fraud and voting irregularities in Madison, you’d think we live in Illinois.
So what did happen in our little corner of the Midwest last November?
City clerks in Ripon and Green Lake reported that despite about half of registered voters casting their ballots in the 2020 presidential election by Oct. 30, and in the midst of a deadly pandemic, they saw no irregularities or causes for concern.
Likewise, poll workers reported a smooth functioning of the democratic process. “All the votes tallied,” town of Ripon resident, veteran and poll worker Karl Stewart reported. “Fraud? Tampering? I saw none here. Just citizens exercising their civic responsibility.”
Six miles to the west, a Green Lake poll worker shared Stewart’s sentiment.
“The county and municipal clerks and poll workers made sure things were done right, honestly, fairly, efficiently and safely,” said town of Brooklyn resident and poll worker Linda Wilkens. “Any one questioning the accuracy of our election process in Wisconsin has ample opportunity to watch the process in action every election. The public is welcome to observe the pre-election public testing of voting machines, observe at the polling sites Election Day and observe the county canvasses that certify the county votes.”
But what about the rest of the state?
An investigation by the Wisconsin State Journal identified 28 allegations of election fraud but could only substantiate one, involving a Menasha woman who reviewed obituaries and found 42 people who voted early but died before Election Day. Their votes should not have been counted.
Not much there, there.
Yet the “Big Lie” — that election irregularities caused the previous president’s reelection to be stolen from him — has since taken on a life of its own, causing Republicans and Democrats to squabble over proposed measures to improve America’s electoral system.
Last week, the GOP Legislature approved election-law changes that will make it more difficult to vote absentee. This is not prima facie bad. In fact, measures that remove gray from what should be a black and white process are worthy. Confidence in fair and free elections is the bedrock of our Republican democracy.
On the other hand, proposals enacted just to disenfranchise people are anti-Democratic, un-patriotic and, frankly, seditious.
So let’s look at what Democratic dish our Republican friends in Madison served up last week:
1. The Senate passed a bill that would prevent local election clerks from filling in missing voter information from absentee ballot envelopes. This seems reasonable. People who can’t follow instructions should not have their votes counted until they rectify their errors. However, if those instructions are cryptic or misleading, that’s where legislative fiats should be aimed. The GOP bill requires the clerk to return the ballot to the voter to fix. A sensible solution.
2. Another bill restricts ballot-collection events from occurring more than two weeks before an election, and would limit them to being near an election clerk’s office and staffed by that office’s workers. Again, this is common sense. The further away ballot collecting is done from an official site, and the more non-official people are involved with the effort, the more suspect the ballots’ validity.
3. Only a member of a voter’s family or legal guardian may return an absentee ballot. This disenfranchises shut-ins who live alone, the disabled and others in institutional settings who may not physically be able to return their ballots. Just because grandma is in a nursing home, has no family nearby, can’t drive and uses a walker doesn’t mean her vote should be excluded.
4. The Assembly passed a bill that restricts counties and municipalities from receiving any money from an outside, non-governmental group to assist with election operations. Another sound measure, although one ironically passed by the best elected representatives money can buy.
These are but a few of election reforms the governor will have to consider when he sharpens his veto pencil. Some will provide greater assurance that our electoral system is immune from hanky panky. Others, in Wisconsin and in other Republican-controlled states such as Georgia, Texas, Florida and Arizona, are naked attempts to tamp down voter turnout.
So let the discussions continue about how to assure future elections are more free, fair and transparent.
But let’s remember they all stem from an unusual election, in which more people than ever voted remotely due to COVID, and a cry baby president refused to accept the will of the American people.
— Tim Lyke