Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Testimony Against GOP Proposed Change to Special Elections Law

Before Senate Committee on Elections and Utilities

March 28, 2018

Good morning, Mr. Chairman, and distinguished Senators. It’s nice to see you all again.

I’m Matt Rothschild, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which, since 1995, has been advocating for clean, open, and transparent government.

I’m here today to oppose, in the strongest terms possible, the naked partisan power play that is going on right now.

There is no fig leaf in the Amazon jungle that’s big enough to cover up this transparent move to keep Wisconsin citizens in Assembly District 42 and Senate District 1 underrepresented in this legislature.

What’s more, these very citizens will be underrepresented on the vote in the next few days as to whether they’ll remain underrepresented or not.

The founders of our country fought the War of Independence over the very issue of fair representation, and this amendment would deny fair representation to some Wisconsinites today and more Wisconsinites tomorrow.

By granting the governor the power not to call special elections promptly, and by doubling the amount of time between his calling an election and the actual holding of that election, this amendment would keep some Wisconsin citizens underrepresented in this body for months and months on end.

That is not how our democracy is supposed to work.

And it’s not how it’s worked here in Wisconsin up to now. Between 1971 and today, for instance, there were 62 special elections for State Assembly seats and 40 for State Senate seats, and these special elections were all called promptly, without subverting the law, according to a study by WisContext, which is a service of Wisconsin Public TV, Wisconsin Public Radio, and UW Extension.

The flimsy rationales put forward for this bill are that it saves taxpayers money and that it’s inconvenient to hold special elections, especially so close to the November elections.

First of all, if the governor had done his legal duty and called special elections promptly, we wouldn’t be so close to the November elections.

And secondly, if you think it’s more important to save taxpayers money than to have a fully representative government, why should you ever fill a vacant seat?

This amendment puts a very low price tag on democracy.

I implore you to vote against this amendment.

There are some things more important than party discipline and raw power.

One of those is democracy.

If you vote for this amendment, you’ll be undermining the norms of our democracy.

You’ll be violating our system of checks and balances by subverting the judicial branch.

And you’ll be violating the essence of our democracy by depriving Wisconsin citizens of full representation in this body.

Senators of conscience -- and you all, in this room, are senators of conscience -- if you vote for this bill, it’ll be a vote you’ll regret.

On the day of your retirement, you’ll look back on this vote with remorse.

You’ll regret that you didn’t have the courage to stand up to your leadership when your leadership was dead wrong.

And you’ll regret that you didn’t have the courage to uphold the norms and principles of our democracy.

Rather than have a horrible vote hanging over your retirement and haunting your conscience, I urge you to vote against this dreadful amendment.