A survey conducted in April 2021 of Wisconsin voters on election integrity found that 66 percent of likely voters supported, among others things, auditing vote totals after elections in order to correct errors.
Why this strong demand for integrity, this determination to prevent election fraud — this demand for legislative action for reform? Surely it must have something to do with Donald Trump and relitigating the 2020 elections.
But as a new election-integrity study for the Frontier Center — “Beyond the Past: For Constitution and Community”– reveals, The Donald is nowhere to be found in the rationales given by right-of-center Badger State reform activists.
A word first about the Frontier Center (of which I am a board member) and its ways: It employs the “laddering” technique — used by major corporations but still a head-scratcher in the polls-obsessed political field — to elicit opinions and find the foundational reasons for why people believe “X” or prefer “Y.” These reasons often differ significantly from public statements, canned talking points, and assumption-laden analyses. The methodology employed in laddering is a small-sample, deep-dive interview process that uncovers heart-felt rationales behind beliefs. The Frontier Center was curious about the strong support for combating perceived voter fraud in a purple state, so it interviewed 30 pro-reform Wisconsin residents (21 conservatives, seven right-leaning moderates, and two independents) about their motivations. The collective conclusion:
Wisconsinites who strongly support addressing Election Fraud are [more] focused on gauging the character, urgency of action, and responsiveness of their elected and unelected leaders as they relate to Election Fraud than on correcting rearward-looking outcomes.
There are no narratives about-Trump, stolen elections, or do-overs to be found in this desire for (1) actual, integrity-assuring reform, mixed with (2) the need to protect voters’ confidence in their rights and full citizenship. As Anne Segal, the center’s founder, puts it in the report, the support for addressing election fraud is “rooted in the present”:
ensuring the system is intact for themselves and for the community of American voters participating in the institution, assurance that leaders understand the gravity of the challenge before them and will respond to their constituents, and a sign that this fundamental Constitutional assertion of the individual’s right to have a voice in the ruling of their country remains intact.
Sorry MSNBC, CNN, BLM, and all others who cast election reform as Jim Crow redux, and attack foes of H.R. 1 with boilerplate mantras about racism. What Segal has uncovered here is a literate and passionate defense of — and for — citizenship, and the harm it is dealt when election integrity is compromised. Also gleaned is a palpable “exuberance of freedom” that citizens find in the act of voting — a thing diminished by fraud:
Voting is about more than seeing their choice prevail — it is a way to serve their country and provides a thrill of citizenship (empowerment and agency associated with your rights) that serves to counter demoralization about other institutions’ failures. Pursuing reform against a backdrop of fraud secures a heightened feeling of that empowerment associated with citizenship.
Those surveyed also expressed the belief that fraud undermines the sense of community. In essence, fraud prevents an “exchange of ideas with viewpoint-diverse Americans.” Indeed, there is a sense of crisis, and a desire for Wisconsin’s legislative leaders to acknowledge it and take action. For those surveyed, these dots connect: If election integrity is lost, what does this say about American exceptionalism and about the state of other institutions? And this most fundamental matter: “Are individual rights and the sovereignty of the citizen still valued in our society?”
Repeated throughout the report is the reformers’ sense of urgency, in part because so much — the essence of America, and of being an American — is defined by integrity at the ballot box. Its conclusion:
Examining the root causes for Election Fraud opinion in Wisconsin uniquely provides access to the attitudes and understanding of a segment of Americans who not only feel strongly that Election Fraud reform be pursued at this time, but also are aware of the national implications related to whether their state’s electoral system allows or ignores fraud. Effective Election fraud reform that satisfies the values-based reasons for support of Wisconsinites should be defined by urgency, responsiveness, future-focused systemic concern and preserving the exuberance of freedom uniquely afforded by the Constitution. As leaders survey the landscape of Wisconsin voter opinion on this topic, this study identifies what matters, how to communicate to their values, and how they might approach efforts at reform in a way that signals service to the voter.
This report makes a mockery of the prevailing, partisan, media-regurgitated, cartoonish characterization of reformers as bigots and conspiray theorists who are really just engaging in a nefarious means of voter suppression, and are hell-bent on relitigating the November 2020 elections.
But its findings are also a warning to Republicans: If leaders fail to recognize and appreciate this honest assessment of why voters yearn for reform, and if they fail to take action to ensure election integrity, America may finally see some real political kraken released. Segal concludes that it will not go well for those who stand by and watch. The warning is blunt:
Concerned voters’ energy will convert to disillusion and demoralization of the conservative base, manifesting first in disaffiliation from the GOP brand and potentially in failing to vote in future elections.
That would hurt. Bigly.