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The Battle to Control Wisconsin Elections
Republican party official asks for QAnon crowd’s help to rig the 2024 vote for president.
DURING A NOVEMBER 8 APPEARANCE on The Coach Mel Show—a podcast hosted by an election denier and QAon supporter named Melody Jennings—guest Brett Galaszewski, a member of the right-wing youth group Turning Point Action and a local Republican party official, advised the show’s listeners on how to help win the critical state of Wisconsin in the 2024 election.
Galaszewski, who serves as vice chair of the Milwaukee County GOP (“the home party of the Republican National Convention happening next year”), urged viewers to do three things: join the county party’s newly formed “Election Integrity Committee,” become a poll worker, and push to get the state’s top elections official removed from office.
Jennings, who as founder of the group Clean Elections USA in 2022 led a nationwide effort to harass people who were attempting to cast ballots using election dropboxes, had asked Galaszewski for ideas on how to “Get everybody in there to do this and go see how you can save the Wisconsin election coming up.”
Galaszewski replied that his group has set out to recruit “upwards of 2,000 poll workers in Milwaukee County to make sure that we have our eyes and ears in all facets of next year’s election.” The purpose of this effort, he explained, is to “just shave off a small percentage of liberal votes” in order to shift the statewide outcome, because “the left is going to try everything that they can to mess with this again.”
Galaszewski also implored the show’s audience to join the battle against Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe. He said audience members should contact “friends and family in Wisconsin” and ask them to call their state representatives to demand Wolfe’s removal. He called it “an all-hands-on-deck effort and it is truly a grassroots, ‘we the people’ movement in Wisconsin.”
As he put it:
Long story short, the work that we do here in Wisconsin is going to determine what happens here in Arizona, in Georgia, in Florida, and Pennsylvania, and the rest of these major swing states are going to be looking at Wisconsin to set the bar, not only for activism, but how do we properly win elections going forward.
One way to achieve these ends, evidently, is to make common cause with people who believe the U.S. government is controlled by Satan-worshiping pedophiles who eat human flesh. As Alex Kaplan, a writer with the liberal watchdog group Media Matters, put it, “Galaszewski’s appearance and advocacy on Jennings’ show marks yet another connection between the right-wing election denial and QAnon movements; it also shows another way in which Turning Point USA is connected to extremist figures.”
Joseph Oslund, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Democratic Party, told the news outlet Urban Milwaukee, “it’s no surprise to see Republicans cozying up to a QAnon supporter who has spread lies about our elections and coordinated efforts to intimidate voters. . . . Turning to conspiracy theorists for help recruiting poll workers tells you everything you need to know about the Wisconsin GOP’s full-throated embrace of Donald Trump and his extreme agenda, which threatens our freedoms and runs deeply counter to our Wisconsin values.”
A recent poll found Trump leading President Joe Biden in five out of the six top battleground states. The lone exception was Wisconsin, where Biden enjoyed an unwhopping two-point lead. Republicans are setting their sights on pushing Wisconsin into the win column for Trump by manipulating the electoral process—through laws, infiltration, and purges.
Biden won the state in 2020 by about 21,000 votes, a result that has been affirmed through two partial recounts, multiple lawsuits, a nonpartisan audit, a conservative law firm’s review, and a partisan review conducted by a conservative former state supreme court justice. Confronted with overwhelming evidence that the last election was free and fair, Trump’s shock troops have set out to make sure that the next one is not.
GALASZEWSKI, ON JENNINGS’S PODCAST, laid out the case against Wolfe:
She was removed by our state Senate a couple weeks ago. It’s still a pending legal battle, now impeachment is on the floor from our Republican-controlled state House. So this is a whole mess that, you know, you’d think it’d be as easy as “state Senate removes her, she’s out.” No, not so fast. We have a Democratic governor and a Democratic attorney general who were quick to put the kibosh on it and say, “Absolutely not. Wait a minute, you didn’t go through the proper channels.”
Well, sort of.
Republican lawmakers did try to reject Wolfe’s reappointment as the commission’s administrator and those efforts have been blocked, for now. Wolfe, a widely respected elections official, took over as administrator in 2018 and her appointment to a four-year term was approved unanimously by the state senate in 2019. In June of this year, when her appointment came up for renewal, Wolfe had the support of all six members of the elections commission, which is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.
To protect that decision, the commission’s three Democratic commissioners abstained while the three Republican appointees all voted in favor of Wolfe’s reappointment. The nomination of an administrator, like any commission action, requires at least four votes. While a lawsuit filed by Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul plays out in court, Wolfe has been able to remain in her job.
Yet the Republican effort to remove Wolfe has only grown more urgent. She has, as Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Molly Beck put it, “become a target of those who harbor intense distrust of election officials amid a baseless campaign by former President Donald Trump to sow doubt in the legitimacy of his 2020 election loss.”
On September 14, all twenty-two Republican members of the thirty-three-member Wisconsin state Senate voted to fire Wolfe, even though they knew it was not legal for them to do so. A week later, a group of Republican lawmakers led by state Rep. Janel Brandtjen filed fifteen articles of impeachment against her. A fact check by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that all fifteen “contain misleading or false claims about how elections administration works in Wisconsin.”
For instance, Wolfe is accused of being the architect of policies that were in fact crafted and approved by the commission, including public health measures embraced early in the pandemic to protect voters and election workers. The role of administrator is not to set policy but to carry it out.
When Assembly Speaker Robin Vos did not promptly send the articles of impeachment to a committee for view, a group of true believers spent more than $100,000 on an ad campaign that accused him of “standing in the way” of Wolfe’s undoing, and warned that he would himself be impeached or face a primary challenger next year if he refused. Trump also got involved, reposting on his social media platform a news release from Brandtjen that accused Vos of being “committed to safeguarding Wolfe.”
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Vos promptly backed down and sent the matter to committee, although saying it likely will not be acted on until after a judge rules on Kaul’s lawsuit to keep Wolfe on the job.
Indeed, Vos has indicated that he was tired of the whole thing. “The election in 2024 should not be about what occurred in 2020,” he told reporters. “I think we need to move forward to talk about the issues that matter to most Wisconsinites and that is not, for most Wisconsinites, obsessing about Meagan Wolfe.”
Brandtjen, for her part, then tried to get the assembly to bring her impeachment resolution to a vote but was not allowed to do so, prompting her to issue this word salad of a rebuke: “I think it’s unfortunate that this body is working against a process that’s allowing someone to remain in office, that is not necessary.”
THE PRESSURE CAMPAIGN AGAINST WOLFE is designed to ruin her reputation and propagate the myth that fraud contributed to Trump’s Wisconsin defeat. Here is one image from the ads:
In fact, Wolfe is not responsible for commission policy on dropboxes or ballot harvesting (e.g., the collection of absentee ballots from nursing homes). And she had nothing to do with the decision of local clerks to accept election-related grants from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonprofit group backed by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. In some cases, these grants were used to address problems regarding safety for voters and election workers during the pandemic. In other cases, allotted funds have to this day not been spent.
Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin have repeatedly tried and failed to restrict the ability of local clerks to accept private grants and outside consultants, only to be denied by Governor Tony Evers’s veto pen. Indeed, Evers, who was re-elected last year, is the only thing that has prevented Republicans from a wholesale assault on the right to vote in Wisconsin. He has vetoed more than a dozen bills passed by the legislature that would have made it more difficult for some people, namely Democrats, to vote. These included bills to ban private grants to help fund elections, limit the sites where absentee ballots can be returned, and prevent clerks from filling in missing absentee ballot information.
Meanwhile, Republicans can no longer count on the Wisconsin Supreme Court to rule its way now that liberals are in the majority. Back when the court was under conservative domination, it obligingly heeded GOP calls to outlaw absentee-ballot dropboxes that had been used without problems for decades. And it came within one vote of overturning Biden’s state win in 20l2, closer than any other court in the land.
Frustrated by these obstacles, Republican lawmakers are now seeking to limit voting and foment distrust in the electoral process through constitutional amendments. Earlier this month, they approved three such amendments, including one to forbid local clerks from getting help from outside groups. The other two would limit the right to vote to U.S. citizens and require voters to produce photo IDs. All three are remarkable for their glaring lack of necessity.
Under current Wisconsin law, only U.S. citizens are allowed to vote, but lawmakers are taking preemptive action because some cities and towns in other states have passed laws granting noncitizens the right to vote in local elections. Wisconsin already has a highly restrictive photo ID law, but Republican lawmakers want to enshrine these rules in the state Constitution for fear that the state supreme court’s newly minted liberal majority might strike the law down. And the proposed amendment to prohibit the use of funds to help run elections comes in the absence of any evidence that this funding has tainted any election result.
The last amendment will go to voters for final approval in April 2024 and, if approved, be in place for the November election. The amendment to prevent voting by non-citizens who already can’t vote will be on that same November ballot, serving to draw anti-immigrant voters to the polls. The amendment to require photo IDs that are already required needs to pass the legislature again in 2025 before it can be presented to voters. Republicans may want to put this to voters in April 2025, when Wisconsin will have another state supreme court election.
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin state assembly has passed a raft of election-related bills that have, wonder of wonders, bipartisan support. As reported last May in The Bulwark, a group of lawmakers from both parties got together to craft election fixes to actual problems. One such bill would stiffen penalties for harassing, threatening, or harming election officials. Another would specify what information needs to be on absentee-ballot envelopes. A third would allow election officials to begin processing absentee ballots on the day before the election, preparing the ballots to be tallied more quickly after the polls close on Election Day. These and other bills await likely Senate approval before heading to Evers’s desk.
Evers spokesperson Britt Cudaback has said the governor “will veto any bill that enables politicians to interfere with our elections or makes it harder for eligible Wisconsinites to cast their ballot, but if there are common-sense proposals that help ensure Wisconsin’s elections continue to be fair, secure, and safe, he’ll certainly consider signing them.”
Another bill that passed the assembly with a lone recorded no vote from Supreme Moore Omokunde, a Milwaukee Democrat, would require that election observers be placed no farther than three feet from where voters give their names and addresses and register to vote.
Just imagine what that would be like: Republican election observers perched just over the shoulders of the QAnon poll workers who have signed up to “just shave off a small percentage of liberal votes.”
What could possibly go wrong?
Correction (4:10 p.m. Nov. 21, 2023): One sentence in this article as it was originally published incorrectly stated that neither Wolfe nor the elections commission were responsible for setting policy on dropboxes or absentee ballot collection. In fact—as was noted elsewhere in the article—the commission, not Wolfe, set policy in this area.