Guest: Alex Burness of Bolts Magazine; Also: OK voters remove neo-Nazi from office; Noteworthy Presidential Primary results from RI, CT, NY, WI...
By Brad Friedman on 4/3/2024, 6:43pm PT  

On today's BradCast: When democracy works as it's supposed to. And when it doesn't. [Audio link to full show follows below this summary.]

First up, encouraging news from Tuesday's elections out of the small town of Enid in supposedly "deep red" Oklahoma. After electing a guy by just 36 votes last year to the City Council --- a guy who turned out to be a neo-Nazi --- progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans in Enid rallied to remove Judd Blevins from office by nearly 20 points in a recall election. Republican Cheryl Patterson was elected to take the seat instead.

“We did it!,” said Kristi Balden, chair of the group called the Enid Social Justice Committee, which organized the signature drive to trigger Tuesday's recall after learning about Blevins' background as a participant in the White Supremacist riots in Charlottesville in 2017 and as an Oklahoma chapter head for a well known white nationalist group. Following the win for democracy in Enid on Tuesday night, she told NBC News that folks in the rural town discovered that even a small group can join together to effectively defeat extremism. “You can do this because we did this,” she said. “We didn’t even know what we were doing, and we did this. This is possible.”

In other election related news from Tuesday, Presidential Primaries were held in Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and Wisconsin despite the leading candidates for both major parties already having secured the delegates needed to clinch the 2024 nominations at their respective party conventions this summer. But there were still some interesting revelations from Tuesday's results.

While President Biden continues to see a small, if noteworthy, number of protest votes against him in Democratic primaries, largely in response to his position on Israel's war in Gaza, Donald Trump continues to do far worse among his own Republican party voters. Biden is still defeating challengers on the ballot as well as those registering votes for "uncommitted" by margins from the high 60s to the high 80s. Trump, on the other hand, is still having trouble topping a 70% percent margin on the GOP side, with Nikki Haley, who dropped out of the race weeks ago, still winning double-digit percentages in all four state primaries held on Tuesday.

In Wisconsin, for example, after an organized effort to encourage Dems to register a protest vote for "Uninstructed", the state's equivalent of "Uncommitted", approximately 48,000 (8.3%) of Democratic voters did so. That is certainly a concern in a state he won in 2020 by only about 21,000 votes --- and where Trump won by just 23,000 votes in 2016. On the other hand, about 125,000 voters in that state's Republican primary voted against the disgraced former President yesterday.

But the biggest news out of Tuesday's contests was arguably the fact that voters in Wisconsin approved two different Constitutional Amendments involving elections administration in the state. Both were placed on the ballot by Trump-allied Republicans in the GOP's still wildly gerrymandered state legislature after both measures were previously vetoed by the Democratic Governor.

Question 1 bans private funding of elections and Question 2 (the more troubling of the two), mandates that "only election officials designated by law" may perform election-related "tasks". Both measures sound fairly innocuous on paper. That, and a lack of organized opposition to either measure is undoubtedly why both were adopted by large margins statewide on Tuesday.

Some 27 other states won by Trump in 2020 have already adopted legislation similar to WI's Question 1, after Republicans decided to lie to themselves about private funding from non-profit organizations to help run elections during the pandemic as somehow related to Trump's loss. But Question 2 is a new idea and could, according to our guest today, result in chaos for election officials in the Badger State's nearly 2,000 decentralized election jurisdictions this November; frighten voting rights advocates away from helping voters at the polls; and spread to other states controlled by GOP election deniers, conspiracists and vote suppressors.

"These offices, even in better times, are chronically underfunded [and] understaffed," says my guest today, veteran voting rights journalist ALEX BURNESS, who published a deep dive warning about the dangers of these two ballot measures several weeks ago at the progressive Bolts Magazine. "It's hard to quantify what exactly the damage is going to be" regarding the ban on private funding of elections, "but if you can't afford to pay pollworkers, if you can't afford to recruit pollworkers, if you can't afford the extra dropboxes or those modern voting machines or tabulators, that's a problem," warns Burness.

But Question 2's vaguely worded requirement that "only election officials designated by law" may perform election-related "tasks" is what could really wreak havoc for voters and officials this November in the critical battleground state. Election-related "tasks" remains undefined in the new Amendment. It could relate to contractors who help design and program ballots for voting systems; outside experts who help officials analyze voting patterns to ensure the proper number of polling sites and printed ballots; voting rights groups who help disabled voters at the polls; municipal workers who are drafted by election officials to help set up tables at polling places; local volunteers who help officials in small towns seal envelopes to send voters absentee ballots, and many others.

It is all "straight out of the Big Lie," Burness explains today. "And in the absence of organized opposition to educate people about this, in the absence of much information from the media on this," he argues that it was easy for voters to look at these measures and think they make perfect sense --- as they apparently did on Tuesday. And yet, he asserts, the measures may turn out to be "a wolf in sheep's clothing."

"There is so much vagueness baked into that word 'tasks,'" Burness explains. "If 2020 is any indication, we can definitely expect that Wisconsin is going to play host to any number of election lawsuits. So, I think the passage of this measure kicks off many months of confusion and potentially chaos, of added stress for local election administrators, and added stress for the kind of people who would be inclined to assist in local election administration. The final word on what exactly Question 2 even means is probably yet to come."

"I can't say why this didn't get more attention, why folks didn't spend on it," he tells me in response to my question about why there was little warning from media and virtually no organized opposition to these measures from Democrats or voting rights advocates. "I could dream up reasons, such as fatigue," Burness says, summing up his guess as "the general normalization of Big Lie politics."

Unlike last night's story out of Enid, OK, that is decidedly not good news for democracy...


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