A conspiracy theory-spreading lawmaker is taking another step to try to undermine Wisconsin elections.
Rep. Timothy Ramthun (R-Campbellsport) has put forward a bill that would give a large group of partisan officials the power to declare an election null and void. The idea is the latest in a series of extreme proposals from Ramthun, who has spread unfounded conspiracies that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent.
The bill, circulated among lawmakers on Tuesday, is the latest attempt by Ramthun to call into question the results of the election, which have been upheld by multiple court rulings, nonpartisan and conservative audits, and recounts in Dane and Milwaukee counties. Ramthun in November authored a resolution that would “decertify” the 2020 election (an impossible action under current state law), and in August he was among a group of Wisconsin Republicans who traveled to South Dakota for a symposium hosted by far-right conspiracist and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.
Under the newest proposal, if the total number of absentee ballots exceeded the margin of victory in an election, then a losing candidate could force an audit of the results.
After the audit, a partisan elected official like the attorney general or a state district attorney could then claim the audit found fraud and force a new election within 30 days. The bill, if passed, would take the power of adjudicating election disputes away from courts and give it to partisan actors.
“That bill, the short and technical term is: It’s completely bonkers,” said Ken Mayer, a political science professor at UW-Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs. “It referenced some of the most ludicrous and outrageously false conspiracies about the 2020 election.”
Any path to success for the bill’s passage likely relies on Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester). He has so far not signaled support for the measure, though he has backed other efforts that undermine faith in elections like the investigation of the 2020 presidential election being led by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman.
Vos’ office did not return a request for comment on Ramthun’s proposal.
Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at UW Madison, called the measure “a bizarre and unworkable piece of legislation,” noting that several of its stipulations were likely impossible to follow. Particularly confounding to Burden was the requirement that a new election be held within a 30-day period, a timeframe that would put undue stress on clerks and be at odds with federal law, which requires absentee ballots be mailed to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before the election.
“Clerks would be scrambling to print ballots, program machines, find suitable polling places, and hire poll workers in one month,” Burden said.
“This is way off the charts,” Matthew Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, said in a written statement. “This is an assault not only on our right to vote but on the separation of powers and our very system of checks and balances.”
Ramthun circulated the proposal for cosigners via email Tuesday morning. His office also sent out other draft bills that would mandate clerks keep ballots up to three years after an election, dissolve the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission that Republicans created in 2016, and make it easier for people to take ivermectin for uses other than those approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
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