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Mixed results for democracy on Election Day in Wisconsin • Wisconsin Examiner

There wasn’t much drama left in the 2024 presidential primary by the time Wisconsinites cast their ballots Tuesday. Still, the roughly 25% of voters who turned out on a day of heavy rain that became a driving snowstorm by afternoon took part in a significant struggle for democracy — with a mix of ominous and encouraging results. 

To illustrate the high stakes in this election year, former President Donald Trump flew into Green Bay and delivered a bloodthirsty speech to an ebullient crowd Tuesday night, mostly focused on the danger posed by immigrants to “your way of life.” Trump singled out residents of Whitewater, Wisconsin, where Republicans and right-wing media have deliberately distorted what they claim is an immigration “crisis” created by a “flood” of migrants allegedly sent by President Joe Biden to the town, leading to a supposed crime wave. Talk to the locals and you will quickly discover that pretty much every part of that narrative is a lie.

But Trump’s dishonest, dangerous, bullying rhetoric struck a chord with the crowd in Green Bay. I doubt that most of them even believe Trump’s preposterous claims  — that Biden stole the 2020 election; that the U.S. economy was soaring when Trump left office at the height of the pandemic; that Putin would never have invaded Ukraine and Hamas would have held off on the Oct. 7 attack on Israelis if only Trump had been in office. It’s not about truth. Trump’s appeal is pure tribalism. He’s a big, strong father figure to aggrieved white voters whose egos have been bruised by demographic and cultural shifts that make them feel left behind. It’s a balm to their injured sense of superiority to see Trump point and laugh, sneer and threaten and promise to defend and protect them, using violence if necessary. These are dangerous times.

Fortunately, a lot of Wisconsin Republican voters are not buying what Trump is selling. In the Tuesday primary, as the only candidate still in the race, Trump only garnered 79% of the vote, with 1 in 5 Republicans voting instead for former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, both of whom long ago dropped out.

The vote of no confidence in Trump was significantly larger than the warning shot fired at Biden by the “uninstructed” vote in the Democratic primary, where 8.3% of voters chose to send a message objecting to Biden’s support for Israel’s war in Gaza. The anti-war voters still made their point, doubling their objective of 20,682 votes — Biden’s margin of victory in Wisconsin in 2020 — and proving the President ought to take note of their concerns.

Biggest blow to democracy

The biggest Trump victory in Wisconsin on Tuesday was the ratification of two amendments to the state Constitution based on Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him through “massive fraud.” 

The amendments make it unconstitutional for local clerks to receive financial support from private foundations or help from anyone who is not a certified election official. The Republican Legislature’s push for these measures is based on the lie that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg somehow drove up Democratic turnout by donating millions of dollars to help elections run smoothly during the pandemic. The reality is that election clerks throughout Wisconsin are badly understaffed, facing unprecedented pressure, threats and demands from a public ginned up by false claims about conspiracies, and are not receiving adequate support from the state. As Dan Lenz, a staff attorney at Law Forward, which opposed the amendments, told the Examiner’s Erik Gunn, state legislators have refused to put their money where their mouth is, leaving local clerks’ offices without sufficient resources to do their jobs:

“This isn’t going to be accompanied by increased funding for elections,” Lenz said of the amendments. “The Legislature has gone home, they don’t have a floor session, and it doesn’t appear that they have an interest in filling whatever gaps in terms of our election administration are caused [by the passage of the amendments]. Clerks are going to be left to deal with the consequences.”

In Wisconsin and nationally, the Republican party appears to be hellbent on destroying civil society, whether by taking a hammer to the apparatus of democratic elections or by destroying another key institution of democracy, our public schools.

Here’s the good news 

Because of the Republican Legislature’s steady, systematic defunding of our state’s once-great public school system, 85 school districts put forward 91 separate funding requests on local ballots Tuesday, pleading with residents to raise their own property taxes to help fill the gap left by state budgets that no longer keep pace with inflation.

The biggest victory for civil society Tuesday was the Milwaukee Public Schools referendum. Despite big spending by business interests and a political pressure campaign led by former Republican legislator Dale Kooyenga, the new head of Milwaukee’s chamber of commerce, voters affirmed a $252 million investment in public education.

If MKE voters pass this referendum MKE’s middle class will have among the highest rents/property taxes per income in the nation.😘affordable housing goodbye. 👆 Rent/taxes=More evictions=more vacant properties=more crime #EnoughIsEnough share-VoteNoApril2-ThisIsHowCitiesDie pic.twitter.com/OroBKzQIUk

— Dale Kooyenga (@DaleKooyenga) March 28, 2024

What a relief to see ordinary citizens beat back a campaign in which landlords threatened to raise rents and big business made the heavy-handed claim that the city would “die” if property owners were forced to adequately fund public schools.

As the Wisconsin Policy Forum pointed out in a report, the MPS referendum doesn’t even bring Milwaukee back to 2004 funding levels.

An excellent recent segment on Wisconsin Public Television’s “Here & Now” explains how schools have been driven to referendum, pleading for cash, by years of deep cuts by the state Legislature. Most illuminating is an interview with Rep. Scott Johnson (R-Jefferson), who drives a school bus in Fort Atkinson. “Republicans have been in charge of the biennial budgets. And it’s pretty clear that most of the — us,  Republicans — want to favor school choice, voucher schools, charter schools.” Johnson told “Here & Now,” by way of explaining the defunding of public schools. Also, he added, many of his colleagues just don’t understand school funding at all. 

Withhold public funding from public schools, and sooner or later only the children of parents who can afford to pay the high cost of a good education can access it.

Withhold public funding from elections — and block nonprofit groups from filling the gap — and soon you’ll do away with access to the vote and democracy altogether.

That’s what’s at stake in this fraught election year. Tuesday’s mixed results demonstrated democracy is under assault, but it’s not yet defeated.

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originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2024%2F04%2F04%2Fmixed-results-for-democracy-on-election-day-in-wisconsin%2F by Ruth Conniff

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