State Watch

Wisconsin GOP will tinker with election laws rather than follow court order

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Wisconsin Republicans signaled Friday that they will hold a special election to change election law rather than face special elections in two heavily Republican legislative districts.

On Thursday, Dane County Circuit Judge Josann Reynolds ordered Gov. Scott Walker (R) to call special elections in two legislative districts that have been vacant for months.

Walker’s attorneys had argued state election law did not require him to fill the seats, because they were made vacant during an off year. The legislators who occupied both seats quit to take jobs in Walker’s administration.

But the judge rejected those arguments, ruling in favor of voters from both districts and the National Democratic Redistricting Trust, a group led by former Attorney General Eric Holder, who argued that Walker’s refusal to call special elections denied voters their right to representation in Madison.


Reynolds, who was appointed to the bench by Walker, ordered the governor to declare vacancies next week, thus setting up special elections that would be held later this spring or summer.

But in a joint statement released Friday, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) and state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) said they would ask Walker to call the legislature back into session in order to change Wisconsin’s special election law.

“After consulting with [the state Department of Justice] and others, we have decided it’s best to move forward on an extraordinary session in order to clean up the statute on special elections and ensure that it aligns with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act,” Vos and Fitzgerald said.

“It’s clear that little thought was given to the impact of the special elections ruling,” they went on. “In essence, there will be two elections occurring simultaneously for the two offices. It will undoubtedly lead to voter confusion and electoral chaos. Also, holding the special elections after the conclusion of the regular session is a waste of taxpayer dollars and local government resources.”

In his own statement, Walker blamed Holder’s group for forcing Wisconsin “to waste money on special elections.”

“It would be senseless to waste taxpayer money on special elections just weeks before voters go to the polls when the legislature has concluded its business,” Walker said. “This is why I support, and will sign, the Senate and Assembly plan to clarify special election law.”

Neither the legislative leaders nor Walker addressed costs associated with a special session.

Wisconsin Democrats castigated Walker and the GOP for what they called a singular focus on keeping power, and a disrespect for the judge who ruled against them.

“Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans’ sole focus is maintaining their grip on power and once again they are changing the laws to ensure their control,” said state Sen. Jennifer Shilling, the Democratic minority leader. “They want to undercut our judicial system and deny thousands of Wisconsin families their constitutional right to equal representation. The Republican efforts to prevent court ordered special elections from being held is the height of corruption and desperation.”

The special elections — one in a Senate seat south of Green Bay, one in an Assembly seat north of Madison — would ordinarily favor Republicans. President Trump won the Senate district by 18 points in 2016, and he won the Assembly district by 14 points.

But Wisconsin Republicans were rattled earlier this year when Democrats won a special election for a rural state Senate seat that Trump had won by 17 points in 2016. In a tweet after that election, Walker said the results should be “a wake-up call for Republicans in Wisconsin.”

Since Trump’s election, Democrats have netted 17 state legislative seats in special elections, in areas ranging from suburban Seattle to rural Oklahoma and from the Miami-Dade area to rural Missouri.

Tags Donald Trump Eric Holder

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