Sen. Ron Johnson’s Wisconsin coup
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Wisconsin Republicans are on the verge of going full autocracy with their latest power grab led by Sen. Ron Johnson (R).
The state’s bipartisan Legislative Audit Bureau and Elections Commission released an audit (pdf) of the 2020 election late last month, as ordered by the GOP-controlled Legislature in February. The full report detailed the Commission’s investigation of election officials’ training, the maintenance of voter registration records, the handling of absentee ballots, the reliability of voting machines, and the veracity of roughly 100 written complaints regarding the election.
The audit reviewed a sample of 14,710 absentee ballots that were cast in 29 municipalities across Wisconsin. It found that nearly 7%, or 1,022 ballots, had partial witness signatures; only 15 ballots did not have a witness address in its entirety; eight did not have a witness signature and three did not have a voter signature.
The Bureau and Commission did not find any voter fraud or evidence that the election won by President Biden was “stolen” from Donald Trump, as some Wisconsin conservatives have claimed. They did find some inconsistent procedures across the state and issued 30 recommendations to improve the electoral process, such as uniform training manuals for municipal clerks.
Supporters of Trump were predictably upset with the outcome that disproved their narrative.
First, Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling alleged that the Elections Commission broke the law when it directed municipalities not to send special voting deputies into nursing homes to assist in casting absentee ballots during the pandemic. At the time, nursing homes were limiting visitors to protect residents from the coronavirus.
“Based on the most recent guidance from health experts at DHS, it’s our understanding that DHS health leaders continue to have significant concerns and their consensus was they would not advise that SVDs be used for this election,” a WEC report on special voting deputies from September 2020 states. “Given the high vulnerability of so many care facility residents, we would defer to the health experts and their conclusion that it is not safe to dispatch SVDs for the November election.”
Schmaling and his sergeant said this decision allowed nursing home staff to help residents fill out their ballots, therefore violating the law.
“We don’t want to stifle any vote,” [Sgt. Michael] Luell said. “People have a right to vote, but we’re concerned that people were being taken advantage of.”
“To put it simply, we did not break the law,” Ann Jacobs, a Democrat who chairs the commission, said in a statement. “In fact, without action from the Commission, many residents in Wisconsin care facilities could have and would have been disenfranchised and not able to vote in the 2020 elections.”
- It may be pertinent to note that Schmaling has repeatedly refused to comply with measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. For instance, he publicly declared that his deputies would not enforce the statewide mask mandate last year and ordered his department to begin evictions despite a federal moratorium.
One of Trump’s most loyal cronies in the Wisconsin legislature, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), led the charge to audit the 2020 election results. Just one day after Trump released a statement attacking Vos for “working hard to cover up election corruption” and threatening to solicit primary challengers, Vos announced he would start a second audit of the election.
Vos hired former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to conduct the probe. The Assembly Elections Committee voted 5-3 along party lines to approve his appointment in August, granting up to $680,000 of taxpayer money for his investigation. Gableman previously supported the notion that the election had been “stolen” from Trump. Some of this money was used to fund Gableman’s trip to Arizona to observe the CyberNinja’s discredited recount process and to attend a Mike Lindell symposium in South Dakota.
- Even Trump’s own judges rebuked his claims of election fraud. In December last year, District Judge and Trump appointee Brett Ludwig threw out Trump’s attempt to overturn his Wisconsin loss, calling it “bizarre” and “contrary both to the plain meaning of the Constitutional text and common sense” (pdf). The state’s Supreme Court also rejected Trump’s lawsuit, though some conservative justices dissented.
This all brings us to Sen. Ron Johnson’s encouragement of a Republican coup.
“There’s no mention of the governor in the Constitution” when it comes to running elections, Johnson told the newspaper. “It says state legislatures, and so if I were running the joint — and I’m not — I would come out and I would just say, ‘We’re reclaiming our authority. Don’t listen to WEC anymore. Their guidances are null and void.’”
“I think the state Legislature has to reassert, reclaim this authority over our election system,” he added.
Johnson claims that Republican control is necessary because Democrats cheat:
“Do I expect Democrats to follow the rules?” said the senator…“Unfortunately, I probably don’t expect them to follow the rules. And other people don’t either, and that’s the problem.”
The result would undoubtedly be a Wisconsin that’s more like Putin’s Russia than America.
“The outrageous statements and ideas Wisconsin Republicans have embraced aren’t about making our elections stronger, they’re about making it more difficult for people to participate in the democratic process,” Evers said Thursday. The G.O.P.’s election proposals, he added, “are nothing more than a partisan power grab.”
The FBI raided the home of Mesa County, Colorado, elections clerk Tina Peters last Tuesday. Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold accused Peters in October of leaking election hard drive images and passwords to Qanon leader and 8chan administrator Ron Watkins, who then posted the sensitive information online.
The alleged security breach occurred during a scheduled upgrade of Dominion election equipment in May, when Peters ordered the security cameras turned off. She then used her employee card to gain entry into a secure room, allowing two unauthorized individuals inside. The group copied data from the computer system, apparently hoping to prove that the Dominion equipment was somehow compromised by compromising it themselves.
Peters denies taking part in the breach but went into hiding when the investigation began.
After the raid, she appeared on Lindell TV, an online channel run by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, to talk about the incident:
“The FBI raided my home at 6 a.m. this morning, accusing me of committing a crime,” Peters said on the Lindell channel. “And they raided the homes of my friends, mostly older women. I was terrified.”
One of the other residences that was raided belongs to Sherronna Bishop, former campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert. Bishop has been one of Peters’ most prominent allies and hinted at a rally last month that she knew of unreleased data related to the Mesa County breach.
Lindell has found himself in the center of another election breach investigation, this time in Ohio. According to the Washington Post, a private laptop was plugged into the voting system in a Lake County commissioner’s office. No sensitive data was obtained yet Lindell presented screenshots from the computer network during his August “cyber symposium” on election fraud. However, while sold as evidence of voter fraud, the data was actually just printer traffic:
“They just got a lot of nothing,” [Lake County auditor Christopher] Galloway said. “It was some copier talking to a desktop saying ‘I am still here waiting for you to send me a print job.’”
The Commissioner himself, John Hamercheck (R), reportedly used his security badge to swipe into the offices numerous times during the six-hour period identified by investigators. Hamercheck just so happened to meet with a Lindell associate, Douglas Frank, earlier this year. And if you’re ready for another coincidence, so did Colorado clerk Tina Peters.
Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt had a busy month creating controversy. Last Friday, Stitt fired Maj. Gen. Michael Thompson, the leader of the Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard and a vocal proponent of Covid vaccinations.
His replacement, Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino, immediately announced that the state’s 10,000 guardsmen would not be required to get a Covid vaccine. The policy directly contradicts the rule by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in August, requiring all military members to be vaccinated.
General Thompson, a 38-year military veteran and the Army state guard’s first Black general, said that Mr. Stitt had been pressuring the state’s military officials to counter the federal vaccine requirements and said that his own stance was to instead warn state troops that there “are consequences” for refusing the vaccination order.
He said the governor offered no explanation when he called Wednesday to relieve him of command.
“It’s political,” General Thompson said. “There’s not another reason for it.”
For his part, Mancino claims he is just doing what the governor ordered. “I did not initiate a civilian-military crisis just because I thought it was cool, right?” Mancino said.
The Pentagon has not yet challenged Stitt’s power to issue contradicting orders to his state’s National Guard. Experts disagree on the legal viability of such a challenge, but there are still ways the Defense Department can redress the situation. For instance, it could deny funding to state units or block the promotion of unvaccinated officers.
Gov. Stitt jumped into another culture war last week, ordering the Oklahoma State Department of Health to stop issuing gender-neutral birth certificates. The Department amended its first nonbinary birth certificate in October, after reaching a lawsuit settlement with Oregon resident Kit Lorelied. Instead of M for male or F for female, those who identify as nonbinary use the “X” designation. Lorelied argued that by refusing to recognize nonbinary individuals, the state of Oklahoma is depriving them from equal treatment:
Categorically depriving nonbinary persons from a birth certificate matching their gender identity, simply because Oklahoma does not recognize such as a designation, harms their health and well-being, by impeding nonbinary individuals’ ability to live a life consistent with how they see themselves.
Gov. Stitt released a statement denouncing the settlement and espousing anti-LGBTQ+ views:
I believe that people are created by God to be male or female. Period. There is no such thing as non-binary sex and I wholeheartedly condemn the purported OSDH court settlement that was entered into by rogue activists who acted without receiving proper approval or oversight. I will be taking whatever action necessary to protect Oklahoma values and our way of life.
Stitt’s executive order (pdf) claims that Oklahoma law does not allow the altering of a person’s sex or gender on a birth certificate. However, the statute does not prohibit it either. To remedy this, instead of allowing birth certificates to accurately reflect a person’s identity, Stitt “encourage[d]” lawmakers to “immediately pass legislation that will clarify…that changes in sex or gender on a birth certificate or a designation of non-binary is contrary to Oklahoma Law.”
Consequently, State Sen. Michael Bergstrom (R-Adair) filed Senate Bill 1100 to amend Oklahoma law to read (pdf):
Beginning on the effective date of this act, the sex or gender designation on a certificate of birth amended under this section shall be either male or female and shall not be nonbinary or any symbol representing a nonbinary designation including but not limited to the letter “X”.
“We’re at an odd time in history where people are seemingly forgetting science and biology and casting common sense out the window,” Bergstrom said in a statement. “When babies are born, they are either born male or female based on their chromosomes and genitals. Allowing anything else to be listed on a birth certificate is ludicrous, and it’s time we clarify this in our statutes.”
Michigan State Sen. John Bizon, a Republican, was charged with misdemeanor assault stemming from an August incident at an urgent care clinic. Bizon allegedly touched a nurse inappropriately during a discussion about medication, “cupping her waist” and pulling her towards him.
According to the report, Bizon told the nurse practitioner he didn’t understand her medication recommendation, so she pulled up a picture on her laptop to explain. Bizon was sitting on the exam table.
The nurse practitioner told police that while she was explaining the medication, Bizon put his right arm around her, placed his right hand on her waist and pulled her toward his body. Bizon then squeezed her waist with his right hand and told her he was an otolaryngologist, or an ear, nose and throat doctor, according to the report.
Bizon also grabbed the arm of a medical assistant when she tried to take his vitals, telling her his blood pressure was up because she was in the room.
When police reached out to Bizon after the incident, the state senator said he had COVID and had been in quarantine since the day of the alleged assault. His arraignment is set for December 1.
Bizon chairs the Senate Committee on Families, Seniors and Veterans Committee and serves on several other panels, including the Health Policy and Human Services Committee.