MADISON, Wis. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Democrats declared victory on Monday following the election of Dane County Judge Jill Karofsky, who bested pro-life Justice Daniel Kelly in a race for a seat on the state Supreme Court. Some observers see the balloting as a bellwether for voters in the November presidential election.
While state Supreme Court candidates in the Dairy State are ostensibly nonpartisan, they are usually supported by or aligned with political parties and other groups. Once elected, they serve for 10-year terms. With support from Planned Parenthood and other progressive stalwarts, Karofsky's presence on the bench means that the court will see a power shift from a 5–2 to a 4–3 conservative majority. Republicans and conservatives fear that a liberal takeover is likely when conservative Chief Justice Pat Roggensack is up for reelection in 2023.
A majority of Wisconsin's counties voted for Kelly, however, while counties encompassing the cities of Green Bay, Madison and Milwaukee were solidly for Karofsky. She is clearly for abortion, having likened it to having teeth removed by a dentist. She supports same-sex “marriage” and has a social justice agenda.
For weeks, Democrat Gov. Tony Evers and the Republican-dominated state legislature had agreed to hold the election on April 7 as planned, despite announcements of postponements of presidential primaries in other states to May or June. The Republican legislative leaders had also advocated for mail-in ballots, citing the pandemic, but applauded open in-person voting.
However, in an apparent concession to his party on the day before the election, the governor ordered Wisconsinites to stay home on election day when the legislature rejected his request to send every voter an absentee ballot in view of the coronavirus epidemic and mandated social-distancing.
The leaders of both legislative chambers challenged Evers' order in the state Supreme Court, which ruled against him in a 4–2 decision. Justice Kelly recused himself. Separately, the United States Supreme Court ruled 5–4 to overturn a decision by a federal appeals court judge (appointed during the Obama administration) that extended absentee voting to April 13, ruling that voters had to have their ballots postmarked by election day.
Federal appeals judge William Conley refused to change the date of the primary, but extended the deadline for receipt of mail-in ballots and ordered that they be counted regardless of when they were mailed in or otherwise delivered, as long as they came in by the deadline. This meant that absentee ballots could be cast after in-person primary voting had closed on April 7.
According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, Wisconsinites requested a record 1.3 million ballots. The commission mailed about 1.28 million, but as of April 10 about 201,000 had not yet been returned.
When poll workers refused to show up on election day, Wisconsin's National Guard worked the polls in an historic first and also provided hand sanitizer and other supplies. County employees built plexiglass barriers to protect poll workers.
A class-action lawsuit accuses state legislative leaders of voter suppression, demanding a re-vote. Many ballots were undelivered or received with illegible postmarks or no postmarks at all, forcing government officials to decide whether or not to count them. The U.S. Postal Service has begun an investigation.
In her victory statement, Judge Karofsky said she was not happy with how the election was handled. "Although we were successful in this race, the circumstances under which this election was conducted were simply unacceptable and raised serious concerns for the future of our democracy," she wrote. "Nobody in this state or country should have been forced to choose between their safety and participating in an election."
In her successful bid, Karofsky accepted more than $1 million in political contributions to unseat Kelly. Karofsky had denounced Kelly for supporting President Trump and alleged ties to the Republican Party. For her part, Karofsky was endorsed by Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Biden was the victor in the primary balloting. She also received support from Planned Parenthood, labor unions and organizations representing government bureaucrats.
In an earlier televised debate, Karofsky claimed that it was Kelly who had politicized the race. But it was she who soon sought cash and in-kind contributions from the Democratic Party and other interest groups after the primary to winnow out judicial candidates. According to official records, her campaign accepted $1.3 million in cash and in-kind contributions from the state Democratic Party, according to a press release from the Wisconsin Republican Party.
Karofsky accepted $170,000 in funds from AFSCME (which represents bureaucrats), Planned Parenthood, the Wisconsin Education Association Council and the Teamsters. As of April 1, she had raised approximately $2.4 million in total, as opposed to the $1.6 million raised by Kelly. She was also endorsed by the radical Wisconsin Working Families Party, financed by the We Are Wisconsin political fund, which is in turn financed by billionaire liberal Tom Steyer and his For Our Future megafund.
Democrats focus on Wisconsin because the state pushed Trump over the top in the 2016 presidential election, thus turning the state's electoral college vote to the GOP for the first time since Ronald Reagan's re-election in 1984.
Democratic Party operative Marc Elias wrote that his party won the state supreme court election and was also the winner in the U.S. Supreme Court decision on absentee balloting in Wisconsin.
On Twitter, Elias wrote that Republicans have "lost a very BIG legal issue for the fall." He argued that because the Supreme Court had ruled that "ALL ballots postmarked by Election Day must be counted," election laws in Michigan and Pennsylvania, for instance, should be changed to conform, or face litigation.
Elias opined that it is now "critical" for Democrats to put into effect the Supreme Court's new "postmarked-by-Election Day standard." He added, "If not, we will turn to the courts to protect the rights of voters." Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were key battleground states for Trump.
Trump has argued against mail-in balloting, saying at a news conference, "It shouldn't be mail-in voting," and added: "I think a lot of people cheat." National Republicans are trying to stem illegal voting in several states, including Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin GOP expressed disappointment over Judge Kelly's loss and stated: "Democrats have tried from the beginning to rig this election in their favor by suppressing votes in the 7th Congressional District, launching several lawsuits to chip away at Wisconsin's voter integrity laws and causing mass confusion surrounding the April 7 election."