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September 16, 2016

A Lesson for Trump From Scott Walker: If the Election Is Close, Cry Fraud

By John Nichols

Charges of "voting fraud" and "election fraud" are peddled for purposes of "messaging" and to advance a cynical agenda that seeks to limit and undermine voting rights and respect for the political process. Walker has been criticized throughout his governorship for promoting that agenda with advocacy for restrictive election rules.


Reprinted from The Nation

After a close Wisconsin election, conservative operatives made plans for "messaging 'widespread reports of election fraud.'" Now Trump peddles a similar line.

Governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker
Governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker
(Image by Michael Vadon)
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The first great electoral challenge to Governor Scott Walker's assault on labor rights, public education, and public services in Wisconsin came in an April 2011 state Supreme Court race. Incumbent Justice David Prosser, a former Republican legislator who had mentored Walker when both served in the legislature, faced an unexpectedly robust challenge from state Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, who argued that the state's highest court needed to be independent from the governor.

The officially nonpartisan race divided the state. Walker's Republicans and conservative donors rushed to defend Prosser, while labor activists and many Democrats backed his challenger.

However, Kloppenburg endeavored to keep above the partisanship -- emphasizing that she had worked well with Republican and Democratic attorneys general, and saying, "I have not wavered in my beliefs and will not start if I am elected as a justice. My focus will be on the court without any political bias."

A lot of Wisconsinites approved. After a long night of vote counting on April 5 and April 6, preliminary results gave Kloppenburg a 204-vote lead over Prosser. Walker allies jumped into action. Among the 1,500 pages of documents from a John Doe inquiry into allegations of illegal campaign activity by Walker and his associates, which were obtained and published by the The Guardian, was a flurry of e-mails regarding the Prosser-Kloppenburg race. The basic premise outlined before the election was that keeping Prosser on the court was essential: "And if we lose him, the Walker agenda is toast," read one message.

The Walker allies talked about how to assemble a team and raise resources to challenge the initial result in what was expected to be an arduous recount. But they weren't just interested in the actual recount -- a long and highly controversial process that would eventually keep Prosser as part of the high court's Walker-friendly conservative majority. They were interested in shaping public opinion.

How? By "messaging 'widespread reports of election fraud' so we are positively set up for the recount regardless of the final number."

Writing in an April 6 e-mail to a list of Republican operatives and conservative activists that included former Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen -- a prominent advocate for "school choice" initiatives that were often challenged in the courts -- Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce Vice President Steve Bass asked, "Do we need to start messaging 'widespread reports of election fraud' so we are positively set up for the recount regardless of the final number? I obviously think we should."

Jensen replied in the affirmative and added, "Stories should be solicited by talk show hosts."

But there were no "widespread reports of election fraud" on the part of Kloppenburg or her supporters. It was just a "messaging" strategy. There was no reason to suggest that crowds of voters had cast ballots illegally or that the voting process should be distrusted -- or discredited.

Richard L. Hasen, the Chancellor's Professor of Law at the University of California-Irvine School of Law, who is a nationally respected expert on voting issues, highlighted the exchange in his popular Election Law Blog.

"It shows that all this talk of fraud is all about manipulating Republican public opinion to believe that if Democrats won a close Supreme Court race, and the recall went to a recount, [then] the election was stolen by Democratic voter fraud," wrote Hasen. "This cynical 'messaging' is sadly validating of what many of us have said."

Charges of "voting fraud" and "election fraud" are peddled for purposes of "messaging" and to advance a cynical agenda that seeks to limit and undermine voting rights and respect for the political process. Walker has been criticized throughout his governorship for promoting that agenda with advocacy for restrictive election rules -- including harsh voter-ID requirements and restrictions on early voting in Wisconsin -- that he suggested would make it "hard to cheat."

In August, US District Court Judge James Peterson overturned key provisions Walker had signed into law. "I am persuaded that this law was specifically targeted to curtail voting in Milwaukee without any other legitimate purpose," the judge observed. "The legislature's immediate goal was to achieve a partisan objective, but the means of achieving that objective was to suppress the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee's African Americans."

At the same time, however, Walker's candidate for president, Donald Trump, was mimicking discredited voter-fraud theories and saying at a rally in Altoona, Pennsylvania, "The only way we can lose, in my opinion -- I really mean this, Pennsylvania -- is if cheating goes on."

That's not a legitimate concern.

That, as Governor Walker's Wisconsin allies have reminded us, is "messaging."

Copyright 2016 -- distributed by Agence Global

Submitters Bio:

John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

Nichols writes about politics for The Nation magazine as its Washington correspondent. He is a contributing writer for The Progressive and In These Times and the associate editor of the Capital Times, the daily newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and dozens of other newspapers.

Nichols is a frequent guest on radio and television programs as a commentator on politics and media issues. He was featured in Robert Greenwald's documentary, "Outfoxed," and in the documentaries Joan Sekler's "Unprecedented," Matt Kohn's "Call It Democracy" and Robert Pappas' "Orwell Rolls in his Grave." The keynote speaker at the 2004 Congress of the International Federation of Journalists in Athens, Nichols has been a featured presenter at conventions, conferences and public forums on media issues sponsored by the Federal Communications Commission, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Consumers International, the Future of Music Coalition, the AFL-CIO, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the Newspaper Guild [CWA] and dozens of other organizations.

Nichols is the author of the upcoming book The Genius of Impeachment (The New Press), as well as a critically-acclaimed analysis of the Florida recount fight of 2000, Jews for Buchanan (The New Press) and a best-selling biography of Vice President Dick Cheney, Dick: The Man Who is President (The New Press), which has recently been published in French and Arabic. He edited Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books), of which historian Howard Zinn said: "At exactly the time when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems, and songs from throughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country."

With Robert W. McChesney, Nichols has co-authored the books, It's the Media, Stupid! (Seven Stories), Our Media, Not Theirs (Seven Stories) and Tragedy and Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy (The New Press). McChesney and Nichols are the co-founders of Free Press, the nation's media-reform network, which organized the 2003 and 2005 National Conferences on Media Reform.

Of Nichols, author Gore Vidal says: "Of all the giant slayers now afoot in the great American desert, John Nichols's sword is the sharpest."