A mismanaged, hyper-partisan “election review.” Multiple, ridiculous calls for resignations. A sitting U.S. Senator suggesting legislative Republicans take over election administration from nonpartisan officials. Threats of legal action and jail time for election officials and mayors.

Once upon a time, states were viewed as the “laboratories of democracy.” But today, in the long wake of the 2020 presidential election, Republicans are trying to turn Wisconsin into a laboratory of autocracy.

First things first: it is crucial that we acknowledge, often and loudly, that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election fair and square. He won the Electoral College vote by almost the same margin President Trump won in 2016, and unlike President Trump, President Biden won the popular vote as well. Literally dozens of court cases have proven time and again that there was no “massive fraud” as claimed by the former President and his most vociferous allies, and numerous non-partisan and partisan audits have proven that any claims of a “stolen election” are baseless and without merit.

But despite all of that, in Wisconsin we have somehow found ourselves knee deep in conspiracy theories, baseless accusations, and deeply troubling attacks on the very foundations of our democracy. What happened?

The answer is simple. Instead of doing the responsible thing and accepting defeat, Wisconsin Republicans and their allies, in their unrelenting pursuit of power, have fanned the flames of conspiracy into a raging wildfire that threatens democracy itself. And they have not simply acted as observers in this matter, allowing fringe voices an unearned platform; they have been active, willing participants.

It’s one thing to show disappointment in losing an election, or to speak out against policies you don’t agree with. Goodness knows I was disappointed back in 2016, and I remained a loud and consistent critic of former President Trump throughout his presidency. But it’s another entirely to refuse to accept the outcome of an election, or even to publicly sow doubt about election integrity.

No matter how often Robin Vos and other Republicans try to claim that they “accept” the results of the 2020 election here in Wisconsin, or that the purpose of their “reviews” is to find irregularities, their actions have proven otherwise.

First, they hired former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman – who himself baselessly claimed last year that the 2020 election was stolen – to conduct an “investigation” while Wisconsin’s own nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau was already conducting an independent review of the election.

Then, they gave him $676,000 in taxpayer money to cover his salary and the salaries of handpicked staff – many of whom have either backed up the false claim that the election was stolen or have explicit ties to the Trump Administration and other right-wing organizations – and to cover travel expenses including trips to Arizona to observe their partisan audit and to South Dakota to attend My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell’s “Cyber Symposium” where the pillow baron claimed he would give “proof” the election had been stolen.

And while that sham investigation and the constant talk of “stolen” elections has and will continue to undermine faith in our democracy, Republicans have shown that they are ready and willing to go even further in their quest for power.

In early November, the Racine County Sheriff announced that he was referring criminal charges to the Racine County District Attorney for five of the six members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, claiming they had committed felonies by offering updated guidance to ensure that nursing home residents could vote safely during the pandemic. Instead of condemning these actions, Republicans quickly lined up behind them: Assembly Speaker Robin Vos claimed in an interview that the Commissioners had “probably” committed crimes.

Former Lt. Governor and current GOP gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Kleefisch brought suit against the Elections Commission. Republican Senator Ron Johnson said that the Legislature should simply take over election administration from the Wisconsin Elections Commission. And Republican State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo introduced a joint resolution compelling Commissioners and the leadership of the WEC to resign immediately or face possible removal and legal action. At the same time, Michael Gableman has filed lawsuits that seek to jail the mayors of Madison and Green Bay for not providing testimony to his investigative team at their private office (which was compelled improperly in the first place, and not even fully communicated to the mayors’ offices).

Republicans want to jail public servants for doing their job, and for standing up for truth and democracy. This is no longer a matter of policy disputes, or disagreements over how elections should be administered This is a page straight out of the fascist handbook. Republicans have begun to take our state down a dark and dangerous path, and it is critical that we do everything we can to oppose these attacks on our democracy.

No matter your political background, it is time to stand up and say “enough.” We need to demand that every Wisconsin legislator go on the record about whether or not they believe the 2020 election was stolen; we need to demand that the attacks on the Elections Commission and our election workers end; we need an end to the sham Gableman investigation that has already done so much harm to the legitimacy of our elections; and we need Republicans to immediately stop the threats against political opponents.

It’s time we ask every one of our officials if they are on the side of power at any cost, or if they are on the side of truth, democracy, and the American way. The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. Let’s rise to the occasion.

State Representative Jonathan Brostoff

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