Activist state

Why state parties are the first line of defense against Republicans

Voters were terrified, often breaking down on the phone as they weighed impossible choices between their health and their frankness. The voter protection volunteers were the lifeline for those voters. The VoPro team achieved a 100% follow-up rate, engaging with thousands of voters in the short three weeks between the start of the Covid lockdowns and Election Day. Thanks to a rollercoaster series of state and national Supreme Court rulings, Republicans rebuffed a series of Democratic attempts to facilitate voting under nightmarish conditions, helping to disqualify 1.8% of mail-in votes cast. But these GOP attacks proved insufficient. A huge organizational push by the party and independent groups in Wisconsin (documented in the short film General repetition) helped spark a flood of mail-in votes that far outpaced Republican efforts to cast them out, and more progressive Supreme Court Justice Jill Karofsky defeated Trump’s pick in a landslide.

In the months following the April election, our voter protection team made the process of supporting absentee voters a science. If a ballot was in danger of being disqualified, for example, the team organized volunteers to call the affected voter until they came to the clerk’s office to correct the error. In the final count of the November election, the disqualification rate fell to 0.2%. Had the mail-in ballot rejection rate remained at 1.8%, based on our data on the disproportionate share of mail-in ballots cast for Biden, Trump would have won Wisconsin.

And then, six weeks after Election Day, Trump’s lawsuit to overturn Wisconsin’s election result reached our state Supreme Court — and Judge Jill Karofsky voted to throw it out, 4–3.

It is essential to emphasize that these party efforts are only one piece of the puzzle. The organizing efforts of labor unions and other independent groups, combined, have reached a similar titanic scale – due to years of patience, focus, investment and hard work, led by an array of brilliant black organizers, Latino, Hmong, and White covering urban, suburban, and rural communities, as well as on air and online. During this time, the presidential campaign was, of course, the center of the fight and the most essential element. The Biden campaign has significantly overinvested and communicated on Trump’s operation in Wisconsin and, despite a far greater degree of care regarding the massive late fall Covid outbreak in our state, has made critical trips in Wisconsin that made headlines. The day after the 2020 election, I wrote about some of the people and organizations involved, including party staff, presidential campaign staff and independent groups, in a Twitter thread.