FILE - In this May 9, 2019 file photo, Josh Kaul, Wisconsin's attorney general, sits in his Capitol office conference room in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Todd Richmond File)
FILE - In this May 9, 2019 file photo, Josh Kaul, Wisconsin's attorney general, sits in his Capitol office conference room in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Todd Richmond File)

“It’s critical that we continue having an Attorney General we can count on to stand up for the will of the voters and our democracy in 2024, no matter the result,” Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul told UpNorthNews.

For most of the past 50 years, the democratic process of participating in elections was straightforward: you voted, Wisconsin election officials counted those votes, the candidates who got more votes won, and the losing candidates conceded. 

But over the past two years—since President Donald Trump lost Wisconsin and the White House—democracy has been thrown into chaos. Trump and his supporters tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election through both legal and illegal means, including the Jan. 6 attack at the US Capitol that left five people dead and more than 140 police officers injured

Many Republican politicians in Wisconsin—including Sen. Ron Johnson and gubernatorial nominee Tim Michels—have followed Trump’s lead down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories and lies about non-existent election fraud and “rigged” elections. 

Other elected officials, like Democratic Attorney General (AG) Josh Kaul, defended the state’s election results and protected Wisconsin’s voters from being disenfranchised. In doing so, Kaul showcased the role of the AG position as one vital to protecting democracy. 

“When Donald Trump and his allies tried to overturn the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, my administration successfully defended the will of the voters,” Kaul said in a statement to UpNorthNews. 

Kaul also opposed the scandal-plagued, taxpayer-funded, Republican-backed investigation of the election commissioned by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and led by former conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court justice Michael Gableman. Kaul has described that inquiry—which ended this summer with no tangible proof of voter fraud—as “an effort to perpetuate the big lie” and a “full-throated attack on our democracy.”

Kaul, who’s up for re-election in November and faces Republican Eric Toney, said the investigation was meant to cast further doubt on Wisconsin’s elections to satisfy Trump and his most hardcore supporters—an effort that could also set the stage for Republicans to try and overturn future elections. 

“I think this is really about 2022 and 2024,” Kaul told CNN. “I mean, when the insurrection happened, I was hopeful that we would see people who have been attacking our democratic institutions realize they had gone way too far, and take a step back. But I think what we’ve seen is that even though the insurrection ended, the spirit of the insurrection has remained with us. And that is in the halls of state legislatures, it’s in these fake investigations like the one going on here.”

Wisconsin Republicans didn’t just try to invalidate the will of the voters after the fact. In another case, they also sought to make it more difficult for tens of thousands of Wisconsinites to vote in the first place by purging them from the voter rolls.

Republicans claimed the effort was intended to prevent voter fraud—even as there’s no evidence of widespread fraud in Wisconsin—and to make sure people who moved were not able to vote from their previous addresses. But the voters who stood to be affected disproportionately lived in Democratic areas, spurring criticism that Republicans were trying to make it harder for Democratic voters to cast their ballots.

Kaul successfully defeated this effort. 

“The Wisconsin Department of Justice fought against the deactivation of tens of thousands of voters from the voter rolls,” Kaul said. “I personally argued that case before the Wisconsin Supreme Court and we won 5-2.”

Kaul has also cracked down on actual voter fraud, recently filing charges against someone who knowingly committed election fraud. 

The Wisconsin Department of Justice this month filed felony charges against Harry Wait, 68, of Union Grove, who recorded himself committing election fraud. Wait posted videos online that depicted himself requesting absentee ballots for Vos and Racine Mayor Cory Mason. 

Wait, a Trump supporter, said he did it to expose an alleged “vulnerability” in the state’s election system, but Wisconsin elections officials said that Wait requesting the ballots wasn’t evidence that the system was vulnerable to fraud and merely proved that he broke the law.

Wait faces two counts of election fraud and two counts of identity theft and could serve up to 13 years in prison.

“The Wisconsin Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that the integrity of our elections is protected from alleged intentional violations of the law,” Kaul said in a press release.

Kaul has also vowed to protect election workers from the consequences of two years of election lies, including threats and harassment. Speaking recently to the Associated Press, Kaul vowed to prosecute anyone who attacks or harasses Wisconsin election workers. 

“What people should know is intimidating election officials is a crime and something we take very seriously,” Kaul told the AP. “Continuing to get that message out is a proactive way to deter people from engaging in that activity. And if they do, we will hold them accountable.”

In November, Wisconsinites will decide if they want Kaul to serve another term as Attorney General—a role Kaul sees as essential to protecting future elections in Wisconsin, just like he did in 2020. 

“We should all be concerned about the extremism and falsehoods being spread about our elections. Donald Trump has made clear that he will pressure Republican politicians to overturn election results he doesn’t like, and on issue after issue, Republican politicians in Wisconsin have been unwilling to stand up to Donald Trump,” Kaul said. “It’s critical that we continue having an attorney general we can count on to stand up for the will of the voters and our democracy in 2024, no matter the result.”