Before the sun came up on Wednesday morning, Wisconsin’s lame-duck Republican-controlled state Senate passed a bill by a one-vote margin that would limit early voting and the power of the state’s incoming Democratic governor and attorney general. It was a last-minute power grab, an attempt by state Republicans to instill a de-facto permanent majority and override the will of the voters who kicked them out of power. A few hours after it passed the state Senate, the Republican-controlled state Assembly sent it to Governor Scott Walker’s desk on a 56-27 vote.
More on the legislation from the Washington Post:
The legislation, passed in the lame-duck session, erodes the ability of the governor to create rules that enact laws. It also prohibits Evers from taking over a state job control agency until September 2019. Additionally, it mandates that early voting cannot take place more than two weeks before an election, even though a court ruled a similar provision unconstitutional.
And Wisconsin is not alone—Republican legislatures in other states, like Michigan, and North Carolina in 2016, have initiated similar moves to undermine the democratic transfer of power. It’s wild that this keeps happening, but it’s also a core part of the Republican Party’s governing agenda.
“It’s so brazen and just outrageous,” Chris Ott, executive director of ACLU of Wisconsin, told Jezebel. “It sets a terrible precedent.”
The state Republicans’ move builds on their efforts over the last decade to gerrymander the state and suppress votes. As Ott put it: “We’ve got a party so entrenched by gerrymandering that they don’t think they have to listen to their constituents.” As an example, he pointed to the state’s voter identification law, one of the most restrictive in the country. In 2017, as reported by the Journal Sentinel, a University of Wisconsin-Madison study estimated that “thousands of registered voters in Dane and Milwaukee counties were deterred or prevented from voting” in the 2016 election as a result of the law, a form of suppression that “more heavily affected low-income people and African-Americans.”
In a statement after the vote, state Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said that “Citizens from every corner of Wisconsin deserve a strong legislative branch that stands on equal footing with an incoming administration that is based almost solely in Madison.”
It was the same argument that Republican politicians in Wisconsin have been making since the election. “If you took Madison and Milwaukee out of the state election formula, we would have a clear majority—we would have all five constitutional officers and we would probably have many more seats in the Legislature,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in the days following the midterm.
The coded language here, as writers like Slate’s Jamelle Bouie have pointed out, is that the Wisconsin Republican Party thinks that the will of progressive voters of color simply shouldn’t count as much as rural white conservative voters. As Vann Newkirk II reported last month in The Atlantic, despite voter suppression efforts, the midterms saw increased turnout among plurality-black and Latinx neighborhoods in Milwaukee, and organizers reported increased enthusiasm among the city’s communities of color, factors that were likely in part why Walker lost. (According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Milwaukee County has the state’s highest proportion of black residents.) Walker also did especially poorly in college towns.
“What’s really going on,” Ott said, is that Republicans “are the ones who are trying to ignore the will of the voters. Our legislative leaders here in Wisconsin very arguably only hold their majority leadership positions because of the gerrymandering that they put into place, and so they are maxing that out by making this power grab in response to the election.”
Outgoing Governor Walker has signaled his support for the bill. Ott says the next big fight in the state isn’t 2020, but next spring, when a state Supreme Court seat is up for election: “This power grab could end up in state Supreme Court, so that election is going to be really important.”