Defending Democracy: Senator Tammy Baldwin details attacks on Wisconsin voting rights in Senate speech
U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin spoke on the Senate floor on January 19 in support of passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and Freedom to Vote Act, in order to remove barriers to the ballot box and protect the constitutional right to vote.
In a raw and emotional debate, Senators squared off over voting legislation that is vital to protecting American democracy. The issue echoes a previous era when the Senate filibuster was employed by Segregationists to block civil rights legislation.
Republican-controlled states have been passing unconstitutional voting laws since disgraced ex-president Trump lost the 2020 election, in an effort to create a one-party state that prevents democratic representation of American citizens. Some of the laws add barriers to prevent Black, Latinx, and other minority voters from registering or reaching the polls.
The John R. Lewis Act seeks to establish a new criteria for getting federal approval before changing voting laws at the state level. The Freedom to Vote Act addresses expanding voter registration, campaign finance, and congressional redistricting.
Senator Baldwin spent 15-minutes on the floor of the Senate detailing how Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature has worked to undermine the legitimacy of democratic elections. Her speech is presented here in its entirety, as transcribed by the Congressional Chronicle.
It is time for the senate to stand on the side of protecting our very democracy and the freedom to vote. This used to be a bipartisan issue, and I was proud to know the history that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed the senate 77-19.
And in 1982 when it was reauthorized, extending it, President Reagan said, “I pledge that as long as I’m in a position to uphold the Constitution, no barrier will come between our citizens and the voting booth.”
This bill is a vital part of fulfilling that pledge. When I served in the House of Representatives, the Dean of the Wisconsin delegation, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican, led the bipartisan effort for the Voting Rights Restoration and Amendments Act of 2006. Today we can’t even get a vote in the senate on the Voting Rights Act.
Why have today’s Republicans walked so far from those that came before them? There’s a simple answer. Too many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle refuse to stand up for democracy and instead chose to stand on the side of Donald Trump and his big lie about the 2020 election being stolen from him.
It wasn’t. Trump lost fair and square, and President Biden won, and that’s simply a fact. To suggest otherwise is a fraud that undermines people’s faith in our very elections. Enough is enough. We must act. We have the responsibility to do so. The threat posed by this Big Lie is all too real, and in my home state of Wisconsin, we have a stark example of it.
I come from a purple swing state. We have had many closely decided elections in recent history. In 2000, Vice President Gore won the state by less than 6,000 votes, a mere .22% margin of victory. Four years later, John Kerry carried the state by about 11,000 votes, a .38% margin. In both cases, despite these narrow margins, those elections went smoothly and were fair. Their outcomes were not disputed.
George W. Bush declined to request a recount. No credible person, let alone the leader of a political party or elected official, claimed the election in Wisconsin wasn’t fair, free, and properly decided by the voters.
Once again, in 2016 we had a pretty close presidential election in Wisconsin and another equally close one in 2020. President Biden won Wisconsin by about 20,000 votes, a margin of victory of about 6.3%. In 2020, Wisconsinites exercised their right to vote in record numbers, more than 75% of eligible Wisconsinites voted. Wisconsin voters broke the record for highest turnout ever measured in the state with every one of Wisconsin’s 72 counties producing an increase in turnout benefiting both presidential candidates.
Wisconsin’s state and local officials and citizens volunteered from both political parties, and did heroic work to ensure our election was smooth, safe, and fair. They took important steps to make our election system work safely and securely for all voters while the COVID-19 pandemic raged in my home state.
Wisconsinites cast their ballots for Democrats and Republicans up and down the ballot, and after Wisconsin county clerks in all 72 counties canvassed the results, Joe Biden won with a margin of over 20,000 votes. The voters of Wisconsin chose Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to receive our state’s ten certified electoral votes. But the scrutiny of those election votes through the channels provided by law continued.
After an official vote count showed Trump lost, his campaign requested a recount and targeted Wisconsin’s two more diverse counties – Milwaukee and Dane. When the recount was completed, it came as nobody’s surprise that it didn’t change the outcome. Trump lost and President Biden won.
The votes had been counted and recounted, but that did not stop Trump from filing a lawsuit trying to throw out 220,000 legal votes in Wisconsin. Fortunately, our state’s highest court rejected this attempt to disenfranchise Wisconsin voters and find more votes for himself.
As two Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices wrote, concurring with the majority decision dismissing Trump’s campaign case, the evidence shows that despite a global pandemic, more than 3.2 million Wisconsinites performed their civic duty. More importantly, as it relates to this lawsuit, these voters followed the rules that were in place at the time.
To borrow a metaphor, Wisconsin voters complied with the election real book. No penalties were committed and the final score was the result of a free and fair election. But that wasn’t the end of the road for Republican efforts to sow distrust in the 2020 results in Wisconsin.
In February 2021, a committee of the Republican-controlled Wisconsin State Legislature by a party-line vote directed the nonpartisan legislative audit bureau to review the administration of the 2020 election. The bureau, according to its report, spoke with the staff of the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission and surveyed all 1,835 municipal clerks and 72 county clerks in the state.
They also reviewed a host of records regarding the election, including sworn complaints pertaining to the election that had been filed with the elections commission. In October, the bureau issued its report which did not find any evidence of widespread voter fraud or wrongdoing in the location.
Separately, a conservative think tank, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, conducted its own review of the election. Their report released December 2021 also concluded that there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Wisconsin. The fact is that our bipartisan Wisconsin voters commission conducted a free, fair, safe, and secure election just as local elections clerks did across our state.
Trump has still not provided any credible evidence of voter fraud or election irregularities. In fact, federal judges appointed by Trump rejected on the merits his false claims about the Wisconsin election. Despite all of this, the Republican leadership of the Wisconsin legislature authorized yet another sham process to question the integrity of the 2020 elections, with a budget of at least $680,000 taxpayer dollars to boot.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this unnecessary partisan charade came shortly after the former president called out these Republican leaders by name for trying to prevent a forensic audit of the election results. This was no mere coincidence. Wisconsin State Republicans named Michael Gableman to lead this effort after he famously said, and without evidence right after the November election, that it was somehow stolen. That’s who is leading this probe. In August, Gableman traveled to Arizona on Wisconsin taxpayers’ dime to learn about that state’s widely discredited audit supported by the Cyber Ninjas.
Then he was off to South Dakota to attend a symposium on voter fraud, led by My Pillow’s infamous conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell. With no effort to show nonpartisanship or to be a neutral arbiter, Gableman hired partisan actors, like head of the group that asked the Supreme Court to throw out the results of Wisconsin’s election and forced the Wisconsin legislature to certify electors instead.
Gableman has issued wide-ranging subpoenas to local officials in Wisconsin’s largest cities and even threatened to jail them if they fail to comply with this taxpayer-funded promotion of trump’s Big Lie. And separately, the Republican leader of Wisconsin’s assembly elections committee began her own set of investigations issuing subpoenas to clerks in Milwaukee County and and Brown County in Green Bay.
She had also traveled to Arizona and in a press release announcing her inquiry stated that Wisconsin similarly needs transparent, full, cyber forensic audit. To put it simply, there has been a constant drumbeat undermining the integrity of our elections in Wisconsin since President Biden was duly elected.
Casting doubt and undermining confidence in our elections has real consequences. It has led to harassment and threats of the hardworking state and local elections officials who worked tirelessly during an unprecedented public health crisis to make sure Wisconsinites could safely and securely exercise their right to vote. Elections officials across the state have received dangerous threats and harassment for simply doing their job. The executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission reported being told she deserved to be hung in the public square, received a threatening letter at her home calling her traitorous, and a profane insult that I will not repeat on the the floor of the senate.
Another Wisconsin clerk reported being called every name you can imagine, and receiving threats that led a local police department to conduct a security review of the clerk’s office, and the clerk feeling the need to install a camera at her house for security in Rock County, Wisconsin. The county clerk’s office asked for protection from the local sheriff in the wake of angry calls after a news report had misstated the county’s votes. One of the members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission had pictures of her home posted on social media and received threatening messages about her children.
Even elected officials are attacking the role of these individuals in administering our elections. A Republican Sheriff has called for the five members of the bipartisan Wisconsin Election Commission to face criminal charges for guidance they provided during the pandemic about collecting absentee ballots from nursing homes.
Let’s be clear. On January 6, 2021, Donald Trump not only incited a violent insurrection against our democracy, he also incited an ongoing attack on voting rights across America. Across the country we’ve seen more than 400 bills that restrict access to voting that have been introduced in 49 states. In Wisconsin, the Republican-controlled state legislature has advanced legislation curtailing voting rights and putting up barriers to make it harder to vote.
Last year they passed measures that would make it harder for voters to turn in their absentee ballots. They have passed legislation that threatens efforts – that threatens elections officials with felonies for assisting voters with minor issues on their ballots and they want to make it harder for people with disabilities who cannot make it into the polls to exercise their right to vote. Thankfully, our Wisconsin Governor has vetoed these measures.
Despite drop boxes being a safe, secure, and effective way for voters to turn in their ballots and have their votes counted. And despite previous support for their use from Republicans in the state legislature, Trump’s Big Lie has pushed them to now oppose the use of drop boxes statewide. In fact, there is now a push to override guidance from the Wisconsin Elections Commission to make drop boxes for legal ballots illegal in Wisconsin.
At the same time, the Republicans in the state legislature are advancing a redistricting proposal that will double down on Wisconsin’s unprecedented level of hyper-partisan gerrymandering. Where politicians pick their voters instead of people choosing their elected officials. Not to be outdone, “the New York Times” has reported that my fellow senator from Wisconsin, quote – and this is a quote – believes Democrats cheat.
This false accusation was accompanied by a proposal from this U.S. Senator to change the rules in Wisconsin and have the Republican-controlled legislature seize control over the administration of our elections, taking this nonpartisan process out of the hands of our bipartisan, independent state elections commission.
As was reported, quote, “Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican, said that GOP state lawmakers should unilaterally assert control over federal elections, claiming that they had the authority to do so even if Tony Evers, a Democrat, stood in their way – an extraordinary illegal decision struck down by a Supreme Court decision, and a 1964 ruling by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.”
For my part, I believe voting rights are fundamental to our democracy, and that is why i will keep on working to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act so we protect the right to vote. we must ensure that regardless of where you live in this country, you have the same access to the ballot box and faith that our elections are fair and safe.
U.S. Senate / Pool