MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers promised to fight a proposed constitutional amendment supported by conservatives that would change election law, even as the measure could be put on the ballot for approval without the Democratic governor’s signature.
Evers, in a year-end interview with The Associated Press, said he also opposed handing election duties to the nearly powerless secretary of state’s office as a Republican candidate has proposed.
“We have a good system,” Evers said on Tuesday. “It’s my goal to keep it.”
Evers, who vetoed six Republican-authored election bills this year, also promised to reject attempts to change the current system, including giving the GOP-controlled Legislature the power to run elections.
Evers’ authority is the only thing standing between the Republican Legislature and wholesale changes to the current election administration system, which was created by the Republican Legislature. High-ranking Republicans, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, have called for commissioners to resign and have floated proposals to reconstitute the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission and potentially hand the power to run elections to the Legislature.
Vos also ordered an ongoing investigation into the 2020 election which Democrats, including Evers, have blasted as an attempt to perpetuate lies about President Joe Biden’s win over Donald Trump, who lost to Biden in Wisconsin by nearly 21,000 votes.
To date, only five people in Wisconsin have been charged with election fraud. An Associated Press review of every potential case of voter fraud in the six battleground states disputed by Trump has found fewer than 475 — a number that would have made no difference in the 2020 presidential election.
An audit by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Audit Bureau also did not find widespread fraud, but it recommended dozens of changes in how elections are run. Republicans are proposing more sweeping changes, including making it harder to cast an absentee ballot.
“Clearly they want to change things so fewer people vote,” Evers said. “It’s my goal that we make sure that it is a fair system, a secure system just like it is now.”
One way around Evers is for the Legislature to pass a constitutional amendment. The measure, supported by the conservative group Common Sense Wisconsin, has yet to be introduced in the Legislature but talks are underway with Vos and others.
The proposal would require elections to be run the same way across Wisconsin; early voting hours and days would have to be the same in every community, and some would have to change how they count absentee ballots. The measure is largely viewed as an attempt to force the state’s Democratic cities to restrict access.
The proposal would also bar private groups from making large donations to the state’s heavily Democratic cities. That follows fierce Republican protests of almost $9 million in grants made by the Mark Zuckerberg-backed Center for Tech and Civic Life to help fund elections, with the bulk of the money in Wisconsin going to largely Democratic cities.
Multiple courts and the state elections commission have repeatedly determined that the grants were legal.
A group formed to support Trump’s agenda is working with supporters of the amendment in Wisconsin. The soonest such a measure could be put before voters for approval is 2023, in time for the 2024 presidential election.
Evers, who is up for reelection next year, couldn’t stop it from getting on the ballot, but he could use the power of his position to urge the public to vote against it.
“I personally would fight against that,” Evers said. “We have a good system that’s simple as that and I think it’s important that people understand the Republicans created this system. It works, and our goal is to have as many eligible people vote as possible instead of making it more difficult for people to vote.”
Vos told AP he was generally supportive of the amendment.
“I believe that we should have the same set of rules for everybody in Wisconsin,” Vos said earlier this month. “Finding exactly what that will look like, I haven’t seen the final draft, but I’m supportive of the concept.”
Evers has not met regularly with Republican legislative leaders over his three years as governor, with each side often blaming the other for the lack of communication. Evers said he did not think his relationship with Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu was irreparable.
“I don’t know if it’s ever beyond repair,” Evers said. “I don’t dislike any Republican or Democrat, even when they disagree with me. So if there’s ways that meeting with them on a regular basis or whatever is going to accomplish something, we will. We will do that.”