MADISON, Wisconsin – In three critical battlefield states, Democratic governors have blocked efforts by Republican-controlled legislatures to restrict voting rights and undermine the 2020 election.
Now, the gubernatorial races of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in 2022 – states that have long been central to Democratic presidential victories, including that of Joseph R. Biden Jr. – take on major new meaning.
At stake are ease of voting, which controls the electoral system and, some Democrats worry, whether federal, state and local election results will be accepted, regardless of which party wins.
This left the Govt. Tony Evers of Wisconsin, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania stand alone in what is already set to be a difficult year for their party, as what Democrats see as a dyke against a growing Republican tide of voting restrictions and far- reach electoral laws.
The question of who will win their seats in 2022 – Mr Evers and Ms Whitmer are running for re-election, while Mr Wolf is on a limited term – has become urgent in recent weeks as Republicans across the three states, spurred on by the former President Donald J. Trump, are expressing more clearly than ever their intention to reshape the elections if they take unified control.
Republicans aggressively pursued partisan reviews of the 2020 elections in every state. In Pennsylvania, GOP lawmakers searched for the personal information of every voter in the state last month. In Wisconsin, a former conservative state Supreme Court judge, who is investigating the 2020 election results on behalf of the state assembly, issued subpoenas on Friday for documents relating to the vote of election officers. And in Michigan on Sunday night, Mrs. Whitmer vetoed four electoral bills that she said “would have perpetuated the ‘big lie’ or made it more difficult for the Michiganders to vote.”
Republican gubernatorial candidates in all three states have proposed further reductions in voting access and measures that would give GOP officials more power over the conduct of elections. And the party is pushing such efforts wherever it has the power to do so. This year, 19 states under Republican control have adopted 33 laws restrict the vote, one of the biggest contractions in access to the ballot since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Democrats in Congress have tried unsuccessfully to pass federal voting laws to counter the Republican push .
The prospect that Mr. Trump may run for re-election in 2024 only compounds what Democrats fear: that Republicans could take full control of the three major northern states in 2022 and, two years later, interfere with or nullify it. resulting from a narrow Democratic presidential victory in 2024.
“I would never have guessed that my job as governor when I ran for office a few years ago would be mainly to make sure that our democracy is still intact in this state,” said Mr Evers, a former superintendent of schools in Wisconsin. He was elected governor during the Democratic wave of 2018 on a platform of increasing education spending and expanding Medicaid.
He and Ms Whitmer are seeking re-election while struggling to preserve the electoral system, which was not designed to withstand a sustained partisan assault, in the face of intensifying Republican challenges to routine election administration. Mr Wolf may not run for a third term, but his Democratic heir Josh Shapiro, the attorney general of Pennsylvania, has been at the forefront of legal efforts to defend the 2020 election results for nearly a year.
The shift from focusing on traditional democratic issues like healthcare and education to ensuring fair elections is most striking for Mr Evers, a man so aggressive he is a supporter of vanilla ice cream.
Last week, as he walked through a row of black and white Holstein cows at the World Dairy Expo, he predicted that if he was defeated next year, Republican lawmakers would have a direct route to reverse election results. from 2024.
“The stakes are damn high,” Mr. Evers said over the din of mooing and milking at the annual Madison Dairy Show. “This is our democracy. It’s scary.”
Republicans reject the idea that they are undermining democracy and say their various election reviews will increase, not decrease, voter confidence in the system.
“It’s full of hyperbole and exaggeration, this is what Democrats do best on this electoral topic,” said Robin Vos, speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly, in an interview. last week at the State Capitol. “All we’re trying to do is make sure the people who got elected were legitimately elected.”
Mr Vos said he was still unsure whether President Biden legitimately won the state. (Mr. Biden won by over 20,000 votes.)
It wouldn’t take much to tip elections across the state of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Four of the last six presidential contests in Wisconsin have been decided by less than 23,000 votes. Other than Barack Obama, no presidential candidate has won more than 51% of the vote in any of the three states since 1996.
And as Mr. Trump and his allies undermine confidence in the U.S. election by making baseless allegations of voter fraud, it is no longer a stretch to imagine governors loyal to the former president taking previously unthinkable steps to change future results.
Governors are required to submit to Congress a certificate of identification of presidential voters. But what if a governor refuses?
Another scenario could also give a governor inordinate power over the presidential election: a state could send competing voters lists to Congress, and the House could accept one list and the Senate the other. Then the Electoral Count Act of 1887 – guidelines for the Electoral College’s vote counting, which remained obscure until the violence of January 6 – appears to give the state governor the decisive vote.
The National Electoral Crises Working Group, a non-partisan group of experts in various fields, cautioned against such a possibility in a September 2020 memo.
“It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that any of these states falling into the hands of a candidate aligned with Trump would pose an existential threat to the survival of American democracy in the 2024 election,” said Ian Bassin, executive director by Protect Democracy. , a non-partisan group dedicated to resistance to authoritarianism, which convened the Electoral Crises Task Force ahead of the 2020 elections.
Republicans have not hesitated to voice their ambitions to change electoral laws in all three states.
In Pennsylvania, Lou Barletta, a former congressman who recently announced a gubernatorial candidacy, said that crossing the state last week the main issue for voters was “electoral integrity.”
“People talk to me about warrants, about vaccines, but they always talk about electoral integrity as well,” Barletta said in an interview.
He said he was waiting for the Republican election review before committing to a full list of electoral changes, but that he already had a few in mind, including tougher identification laws. voters.
James Craig, Michigan’s leading Republican gubernatorial candidate, has backed bills that would ban mass mailing of postal ballot requests to voters who do not request them and impose a strict voter identification requirement . He declined to comment.
These proposed laws are being pushed by Ed McBroom, a Republican state senator, even though he released a report in June debunking Trump-inspired electoral fraud allegations.
“Someone could quite easily try to impersonate someone they don’t know,” said Mr. McBroom, who heads the Michigan Senate Elections Committee.
And in Wisconsin, Rebecca Kleefisch, a Republican who served as Lieutenant Governor to Governor Scott Walker until 2019, challenges Mr. Evers with a campaign platform which calls for transferring responsibility for the state elections from the Wisconsin Biparty Election Commission, which it and Mr Walker’s administration created in 2016, to the GOP-controlled legislature. Ms Kleefisch declined to comment.
Perhaps no Democratic 2022 gubernatorial candidate is as familiar with Republican attempts to challenge the 2020 results as Mr. Shapiro. As Pennsylvania’s attorney general, he defended the state in 43 lawsuits brought by Mr. Trump and his allies that challenged voting methods and results.
“There are new threats every day to the right to vote, new efforts to deny voters the right to vote, and I expect this to be another huge test in 2022,” Shapiro said. , who plans to announce a campaign for the governorship as soon as possible. like this month.
Last month, Shapiro filed a lawsuit to block Republicans in the Pennsylvania Senate after asking for the personal information of the state’s seven million voters as part of their election review, including permit numbers to drive and partial social security numbers.
“The only thing currently preventing the reduction of voting rights in Michigan is the threat of my veto,” she said in an interview.
Michigan was also home to one of the most forceful and obscure attempts to reverse the result in 2020, when Republican election officials, at Mr. Trump’s request, attempted to refuse to certify the results in Wayne County and block certification of the state’s overall results. . That memory, combined with new ballot bills and Republican attempts to revisit state election results, makes Michigan’s election next year all the more important, Ms. Whitmer said.
“If they make it more difficult or impossible for a lot of people not to be able to participate in the elections,” she said, “that not only has an impact on the elections in Michigan, but also on the elections. for federal positions, like the US Senate and certainly the White House. “
Mr Vos said he had not given thought to the extent to which Republicans in Wisconsin could change election laws if the state had a Republican governor. But this year, the state legislature passed a set of six bills that would have enacted a series of new voting restrictions.
Mr. Evers vetoed them all.
“I learned to play the goalie in this job,” he said. “And I will continue to do so.”