Critics said Godlewski’s recent comments could create confusion. Her supporters say her leadership plays a key role in the counterattack against the misinformation still being peddled by Trump supporters.
Wisconsin’s new secretary of state generated attention and ruffled a few feathers when she said her office stands ready to do anything it can to fend off the next right-wing attacks on election integrity. Sarah Godlewski’s comments–which came less than three years after Republicans tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Wisconsin–drew pushback from critics who claim she’s speaking out of line. But they also received praise from her supporters, who say her advocacy is sorely needed as a check on those who continue spreading lies and sowing doubts about elections and their results.
“When I read her comments, what I see is a woman continuing to fight for what is right and just,” said Rep. Kristina Shelton (D-Green Bay) Tuesday on UpNorthNews Radio. “She plays an instrumental role and I champion her.”
In several recent interviews, Godlewski said she is willing to use her office to assist local officials and the Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC) in order to protect elections that are secure and accurate.
“We know our local clerks have been attacked, and these are public servants that are doing everything they can to ensure every vote counts,” Godlewski told CBS 58 in Milwaukee. “I would love to figure out how can I help, for example, with democracy and our clerks.”
Godlewski did not ask for new powers for the secretary of state’s office, and she saluted the WEC for “doing a great job holding free and fair elections.”
“But I do think there are other ways we can help,” Godlewski said. “Whether it’s figuring out how can we make sure people are able to get to the polls? What are ways we can help with transparency and accountability?”
WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe and Democratic commission member Ann Jacobs said they were concerned Godlewski’s comments could create confusion about which office is ultimately responsible for enforcing election rules.
Election responsibilities are extremely decentralized in Wisconsin, with duties allocated to more than 1,800 local clerks as well as the WEC—a commission made up of three Democrats and three Republicans—with the chair’s position regularly rotated between the parties’ appointees.
The secretary of state’s office has had much of its power stripped away by past Republican-led legislatures. Some state Republicans have advocated for abolishing the WEC and giving the secretary of state’s office more election authority if Republicans were to win back the post.
WEC Chair Don Millis, a Republican, was even more critical of Godlewski. In an opinion column for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, he not only criticized Godlewski, but claimed that incorrect information occasionally offered by civic groups—getting a polling place address wrong, for example—did more damage than Trump and others actively lying about non-existent voter fraud in an effort to overturn the will of the voters.
“In terms of scale,” Millis said, “the amount of disenfranchisement caused by these well-meaning but misguided organizations could be greater than that caused by the election-denying, conspiracy theorists who peddle false information of a different kind.”
Millis did not say if any of the civic organizations he was referring to ever used that incorrect information as a basis for an armed insurrection, as some Trump supporters did during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol
Shelton said Godlewski is in lockstep with the WEC’s goals, talking about the need to have transparency in elections, to reduce barriers to voting, and to properly fund the commission and local clerks’ offices.
“We continue to see these election deniers and the spreaders of misinformation,” Shelton said. “It’s not going away. And so we need more people to be louder and more vocal and to say, look, there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud. And so to have another voice, another advocate, is exactly what we need.”
Shelton also took issue with the criticism by Millis, who concluded his essay by saying, “No matter how well-intentioned she may be, Godlewski—as secretary of state—should stay in her lane.”
“It speaks of sexism,” said Shelton. “And I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a man tell a woman to stay in her lane and have that work out for him.”