Wisconsin secretary of state talks disinformation, elections, and fair maps - TAI News
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Sarah Godlewski worries about the impacts of extremism on democracy. Appointed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to be the 29th secretary of state of Wisconsin in March 2023, the fifth-generation Wisconsinite and former state treasurer said disinformation is a threat to a functioning government.

“I think one of my greatest fears is that this world of myths and disinformation clouds reality in a way that really impacts how best Wisconsin can be served and our ability to get things done for the people of our state,” Godlewski told the Wisconsin Independent. “Disinformation continues to spread like wildfire, and it’s often at government institutions or elected officials that are doing important work that is essential to day-to-day operations even.”

Since the election in 2020, election workers have faced escalating threats nationwide. In 2022, a task force in Dane County said election voters and voting machines were not sufficiently protected from threats or violence. As a result of the escalating harassment and threats, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers is working to establish greater protections and make physical attacks on election workers a felony.

Godlewski’s path to becoming secretary of state generated controversy and outrage from Republicans in the state. After Democratic Secretary of State Doug La Follette retired in 2023, Gov. Tony Evers appointed her to the role rather than holding a special election. Republicans accused Evers of handing her the role as a prize for stepping away from the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate to clear a path for Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes’ nomination in 2022. Barnes lost in the general election to the incumbent, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. 

“The governor followed the law,” Godlewski said. “When a constitutional officer resigns, they have the ability to appoint, and that’s exactly what Gov. Evers did. … You can’t just change the rules of the game because you just don’t like the rules.”

Godlewski pointed Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s appointment of Milwaukee attorney Daniel Kelly’s appointment to the state Supreme Court in 2016 after Justice David Prosser resigned as another example of such an action .

While Walker stripped the Wisconsin secretary of state’s office of the power to administer elections and created an independent election commission, Godlewski sees her office as the “keeper of the Electoral College,” and says it is focused on civic engagement and education.

She celebrated the process of redrawing Wisconsin’s gerrymandered legislative maps to ensure Wisconsinites’ votes count. Wisconsin’s maps have historically been considered some of the most gerrymandered in the country. On Feb. 19, Evers signed new legislative maps into law that better reflect the voters’ political views in the battleground state.

“We have seen time and time again the impacts of gerrymandering on our state and how critical it is to make sure that actually one voice equals one vote,” Godlewski said. “These new maps, I think, are going to be so critical because they’re actually going to be bringing everyone’s voices to the table, because it’s going to be more of what Wisconsin looks like, which is a purple state, and so we can better reach consensus and actually get things done.“

However, even with fairer maps, Godlewski said, her office has another issue to contend with.

After Joe Biden won the presidential election in 2020, seven states were found to have been involved in a scheme to cast false votes in the Electoral College for former President Donald Trump. Ten Wisconsin Republicans posed as electors for Trump. All have acknowledged their role in attempting to overturn the election in favor of the former president. 

In December, Godlewski called for Robert Spindell to be removed or that he resign from his role on the Wisconsin Elections Commission after admitting to participating in the a fake elector scheme. The commission is responsible for administering elections and certifying the results.

“We’ve talked about how he has an obligation to the people of Wisconsin and he put his personal preference above the law,” Godlewski said. “We do not want someone who is a liar and is willing to put their own personal interests above what the people of Wisconsin have voted for should be administering our elections.”

Spindell was appointed in 2019 by Wisconsin Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu. If Spindell resigns, LeMahieu will be responsible for appointing his replacement.

Godlewski has also long been passionate about the preservation of reproductive rights in her state. During her 2022 Senate campaign, she created a political action committee called Women Win Wisconsin that endorsed six pro-abortion rights Democratic candidates running for the state Legislature. ​​

“This is about rights. This is about making sure that we are talking about what’s at risk when you take rights away from a population, whether it is from a health risk, an economic risk, or just frankly attacking our liberty,” Godlewski said. 

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The Wisconsin Independent is a project of American Independent Media, a 501(c)(4) organization whose mission is to use journalism to educate the public, giving them the information they need about local and federal issues.