It is no secret that much of the Republican advantage in the 2022 midterm election cycle is based on gaming the system to favor the Grand Old Party.
From gerrymandering to voter suppression laws to intimidation schemes, the GOP has pulled out all the stops to make it easier for the party’s candidates to win than would be the case in a free and fair election.
But even after all the electoral self-dealing, races across the country remain close. So close that the fight for statehouses is very much up for grabs as November 8 approaches.
What happens if the Republican Party wins big this election cycle? Democracy advocates warn that Republican governors and their legislative allies would rig election processes to favor the GOP.
Should voters take that dire prediction seriously? Absolutely.
Who says? Republicans. Take Tim Michels, the party’s nominee for governor of Wisconsin. Polls show that Michels, a multimillionaire who has financed his campaign with family money, is running even with Governor Tony Evers, the mild-mannered Democrat who saw the state through the worst of the coronavirus pandemic and has ushered in an era of high employment, improved services, increased funding for education, and balanced budgets.
Michels is running a wildly dishonest campaign that has earned “pants-on-fire” ratings from fact-checkers. But it looks like he’s decided to tell the truth about his intent to end nonpartisan election oversight in the state. During a campaign stop in Jefferson County, a swing region between Madison and Milwaukee, Michels declared, “Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin after I’m elected governor.”
That’s a bold statement, considering the fact that Wisconsin voters have elected Democrats in eight of the last nine presidential elections. Democrats also hold every statewide constitutional office—governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and state treasurer—as well as one US Senate seat, three US House seats, and 50 seats in the state legislature.
But Michels has a plan. He wants to replace the Wisconsin Elections Commission—which is currently organized with an eye toward guaranteeing nonpartisan management of voter registration, voting, election counts, and recounts—with what by every indication would be a partisan oversight board. Under the scheme Michels is proposing, a new commission would be made up of appointed representatives from the state’s eight congressional districts.
Because of gerrymandering, Republicans already dominate five of the eight districts, and could win a sixth district in November.
Michels, who told a radio interviewer that the 2020 presidential election was “maybe” stolen, has according to the Associated Press “been unclear about whether he would accept 2024 results.” The question of certification of election results has been a big deal in contests across the country this year, as Bloomberg noted in an August article headlined, “Five US States Will Decide If the 2024 Election Can Be Stolen.” The battleground states referenced in the article feature front-running candidates who falsely claim that “Donald Trump was the true winner” of the 2020 election (Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake), that Trump won a state that he actually lost by 155,000 votes (Michigan gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon), that 2020 election results were “compromised” (Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano), that the last election was “rigged” (Nevada Senate candidate Adam Laxalt), and that “illegal ballots” were cast (Michels in Wisconsin).
“Trump and his loyalists are supporting people who deny the results of the 2020 election for governor in five key states this fall, more than enough to tilt a close 2024 presidential race away from the duly elected winner,” noted the Bloomberg assessment. “Tight races this November in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin, and a possible Republican win in Pennsylvania, will determine who is in charge of making election decisions in states where the White House is won or lost.”
An understanding of the 2024 stakes was one of the reasons so many Wisconsinites were alarmed by the “Republicans will never lose” comment from Michels.
If the balance of power on the election commission were tipped to the GOP, and additional voter suppression schemes were launched by a new governor and his allies in the legislature, Michels’s claim would seem a good deal more plausible.
Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump has endorsed Michels, who has echoed the former president’s Big Lie about the 2020 presidential race. Famously, it was Trump who announced during the 2020 campaign that if fair and responsible election reforms were implemented—same-day registration, more early voting, and easier models for voting by mail—“you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
No wonder Governor Evers labels Michels “a danger to our democracy.” And no wonder Wisconsin state Representatives Mark Spreitzer, Lisa Subeck, and Jodi Emerson—Democrats who serve on the state Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections—say, “It is clear that Tim Michels will use all of the powers of the Governor’s office to rig elections for Republicans.”
With Trump-aligned election deniers topping GOP tickets in states across the country—19 gubernatorial nominees like Michels, 10 in races for attorney general, and 12 for secretary of state—the threat to democracy is not limited to one state. What distinguishes Wisconsin is only that the Republican candidate for governor is now saying the quiet part out loud.