Madison voters (copy)

Jeff Scott Olson casts his 2020 midterm vote at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center. 

Months before the 2020 presidential election, an Atlantic magazine story reported on research that showed a dramatic drop in Americans' confidence in the nation's elections.

"It’s too early to say who will win the 2020 presidential election," wrote David Graham in the June 2020 edition. "But there’s a good chance that one loser will be faith in the electoral system.

"President Donald Trump is alleging — as he did four years ago, though sooner in the cycle this time and with greater vehemence but no more evidence — that the voting system is subject to widespread fraud. Should he win, it will give him another four years to undermine the system from within and assail voting-rights protections. Should he lose, his defeat is likely to reinforce the spurious claims of fraud he is spreading now." 

We're now witnessing just how prescient Graham's piece was. Trump, of course, doubled down on his claims that the election was rigged and most of his fellow Republicans, including the core of the Wisconsin GOP, jumped right in, from Sen. Ron Johnson to freshmen House members like Tom Tiffany and Scott Fitzgerald.

It was all a big lie. There was nothing wrong with the election system. Cheating was virtually nonexistent — anywhere. Both Wisconsin and U.S. election officials proclaimed the 2020 election the most secure in history.

But the claims kept coming. Nowhere were they greater than in Wisconsin, where Republican leaders hired a former Supreme Court justice to find how the state's Electoral College votes were stolen from Donald Trump and keep alive false claims of fraud.

It's all led to hundreds of unnecessary changes in election laws. In Wisconsin, a Supreme Court decision ended the use of ballot drop boxes that made it more convenient for citizens to vote absentee. Another court decision prevented election clerks from correcting simple mistakes on the envelopes containing absentee ballots — missing zip codes, for instance.

The aim, which thanks to massive get-out-the-vote efforts hasn't always succeeded, has been to make it harder, rather than easier, to participate in democracy's most sacred duty.

One of the targets in some Republican states has been, of all things, the military. Ohio's restrictive new election law, for instance, significantly shortens the window for mail-in ballots to be received — despite no evidence that the extended timeline has led to fraud or any other problems — and that change is angering active-duty members of the military and their families because of its potential to disenfranchise them, according to an AP report.

Lawmakers in other states, including Wisconsin, are considering changes in military voting. Our state's proposed changes have been deemed necessary because of a stunt engineered by a former Milwaukee County election official.

Kimberly Zapata used fictitious voter information to send three military absentee ballots to Republican state Rep. Janel Brandtjen, an election denier. Pleading not guilty to subsequent criminal charges, Zapata claims she was only trying to expose vulnerabilities in the election system.

Still, state legislative Republicans are taking the bait, pledging to make changes in Wisconsin's historic practice of allowing members of the military to vote without providing an ID.

Military absentee ballots are a tiny part of the vote in Wisconsin, representing about 0.07% of the absentee ballots requested, amounting to about 2,800 ballots in last falls' midterm elections. There has never been any instance of fraud in the process.

But those who want to change how America votes have lied their way to success.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@captimes.com, 608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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