Securing our democracy and putting on masks again!

The Select Committee on the January 6 Insurrection met in formal session today. Representative Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) chairs the panel, which also includes two Republicans Speaker Pelosi named to the committee after Minority Leader McCarthy pulled his five nominees in a huff. In his opening statement, Chairman Thompson promised to expose "the big lie." "Some people are trying to deny what happened,” Thompson said. “To whitewash it. To turn the insurrectionists into martyrs. But the whole world saw the reality of what happened on January 6th. … And all of it: for a vile, vile lie. Let’s be clear. The rioters who tried to rob us of our democracy were propelled here by a lie. As chairman of this committee, I will not give that lie any fertile ground." Representative Cheney followed: "If those responsible are not held accountable, and if Congress does not act responsibly, this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic, undermining the peaceful transfer of power at the heart of our Democratic system." (See full coverage in the Washington Post, July 27, 2021.)

If the purpose of the investigation is to prevent another attempt in the future, then simply beefing up security at the Capitol and elsewhere or rolling back measures to suppress the vote will be insufficient. As Ned Foley, a contributing author at Election Law Blog, has pointed out, "the biggest risk that Drumpf starts a second term on January 20, 2025, as a consequence of his being awarded electoral college votes that he did not win as a result of the popular vote in the relevant states, is from members of Congress being willing to declare him the winner even though he actually lost, in a second — and this time successful — version of the Big Lie." So he wonders whether there is plan, "either through the work of the select committee or otherwise, to confront this problem?" Neither the "For the People Act" nor the "John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act" provide any counter to the Republican efforts to subvert elections by taking over their administration and certification: in other words, the new laws that are about how votes are counted (including whose votes are counted) and certified rather than simply about who has access to the ballot box.

In COVID-19 news, the CDC is now recommending that fully vaccinated people, especially those who live in areas of high disease transmission, should resume wearing masks in indoor public settings. According to the New York Times, "The change follows reports of rising breakthrough infections with the more contagious Delta variant in people who were fully immunized, and case surges in regions with low vaccination rates." Major news outlets are also reporting that impatience with and anger at vaccine refusniks are growing.

And in a wonderful ironic twist, COVID-19 vaccinations DO NOT CAUSE male infertility or erectile dysfunction. HOWEVER, getting COVID-19 can! Mark Sumner at Daily Kos notes that "For months, rumors have been circulating about the COVID-19 vaccines causing such issues. Those rumors are simply untrue. There is no evidence that the vaccines can cause infertility among men or women. But the disease certainly can." He concludes, "by turning down the vaccine, Republicans may be not just putting their lives at risk, but taking themselves right out of the gene pool."

To do more than cluck and tut about the state of the world, though, how about taking a proactive step or two? The Ozaukee County Fair is taking place from July 28 (that's TOMORROW) through August 1. The Ozaukee County Dems are going to be managing a booth there and invite you to drop by for swag, selfies and support! And it's not too late to volunteer to help out at the State Fair, at the Milwaukee Fair Grounds, August 5 — 15. Each day, shifts of 2.5 hours begin at 11am and end at 9pm. To volunteer (and get a free ticket for that day's Fair), call Marlene Ott — 414-421-8866 —. Please leave your name, your phone number, and the date & times of shifts you are available. Then repeat the info before hanging up.

This week the Events list is a bit longer. And it has a nice mix of cultural, social, and political actions to choose from. Surely you can find something interesting to do!

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first the ugly then the good

There's plenty of worrying news circulating just now. For me, the most troublesome is a piece by Mark Sumner in Daily Kos about the danger of allowing the Covid-19 pandemic to endure. It's a long piece but worth the time it takes to read because it clarifies the all-too-real consequences of an endemic disease accelerating its reproduction number (R0) over the past 18 months and will apparently continue to mutate in a way that will continue to raise that number even further. Meaning that the virus can become more transmissible with each new variant.

As Sumner explains, "every person infected brings around 10,000,000,000 new examples of the SARS-CoV-2 virus into existence. Every single one of those is subject to mutations. Those mutations then get winnowed by the one evolutionary pressure that faces viruses: getting that R0 number ever higher. The idea that viruses always mutate to become less deadly over time is simply not true. Viruses become more contagious. That’s it."

Meanwhile, the bipartisan infrastructure bill seems headed for a show-down. After having negotiated an agreement of sorts, Republicans are now balking at increased funding for the IRS so that it can pursue extremely wealthy tax cheats. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo dissects the flimflammery in this move, while arguing that the ball remains in the Democrats' court. Let's hope he's spot on when he writes, "If Republicans won’t produce 10 votes for the bipartisan mini-bill, Democrats can simply pile that money into the reconciliation bill. While no one wants to say that out loud or say it too loudly, that looks like what they will do." Majority Leader Schumer has fixed tomorrow as the deadline. Let the fireworks begin!

But let's focus for now on something positive you can do. First, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin has just launched a Menstrual Supply Drive to collect menstrual products and donate them to homeless shelters across Milwaukee. Many people who menstruate suffer from not having access to period products or are unable to afford these products. Unfortunately, they are still treated as a commodity. Pads, tampons, menstrual cups, and feminine wipes are all needed. A drop-off location is available until August 6th. For donations please contact Kambria Farwell at  [email protected]. Kambria will provide the address of the drop-off location and answer your questions. Please share this community service project with friends, relatives, and on social media!

Second, you can sign up to help those who have been struck from Wisconsin's voter rolls re-register to vote. As part of a registration drive put together by the League of Women Voters, Grassroots North Shore is seeking volunteers to make phone calls to those people and to help those who want to be able to vote to get registered again. The phone bank will begin early in August and may continue through the early autumn. This project is not a heavy lift: you can participate by making calls from home and giving the effort just a few hours a week. Sign up here and we'll be in touch when we're ready to go.

Third, we are also going to "drop lit" in our communities to combat gerrymandering. The League of Women Voters has produced door-hangers detailing what gerrymandering has meant to the fate of legislation voters of Wisconsin say they want: "Partisan maps cause elected officials to focus on partisan primaries, representing their political party and donors instead of voters." If you're up for stretching your legs and getting a bit of fresh air, RSVP. We'll be in touch.

[PS: BUCKS IN SIX! Go Bucks.]

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Let's fight back against gerrymandering and voter suppression

The national and local news items of note are many and various. But now that Congress has returned from its Fourth of July recess, the political action will definitely heat up even more. Sometimes the national and local bits converge. For example, he-who-shall-not-be-named (ie, the "former guy") is attacking Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (awww) for "failing to adequately fight to overturn Biden's win" (Washington Post, July 5, 2021). Vos of course is not the only state legislator who has been threatened with *rump's recruitment and endorsement of a primary opponent for these so-called RINOs (Republicans In Name Only). The point of these efforts is to tighten his grip on the GOP (or as it is sometimes now called, the GQP).

Fighting back: that's what we need to do. But how? One good way is to keep pressing to end gerrymandering, and promote fair maps. (Note: you can pick up a Fair Maps yard sign at our office, 5600 W. Brown Deer Rd, Suite 116, on Wednesday, July 7 from 4:30 to 6:30pm and on Saturday, July 10 from 11am to 1pm.) The People's Map Commission (PMC) will be drawing new maps to present to the legislature after the state-level census data are distributed (early this fall). The PMC is relying on citizens to help this effort by drawing maps of their "communities of interest." And that means YOU.

Ariana Hones, from Wisconsin Conservation Voters, is announcing two opportunities for citizens to participate in map-making: the first on Tuesday, July 13, from 3-4:30pm and the second on Thursday, July 15, from 6-7:30pm. Ariana explains, "Mapping our communities is an easy and  important part of the districting process and an opportunity to advocate for the needs of our communities.... Learn how to draw a map that represents your community and your best interests. These maps will be submitted to the People’s Maps Commission for consideration during this year’s districting process. At each map making event you will be split into small groups and have a point person that is trained in making the maps. All we will need from you in your input and ideas on what matters to your community."

For its current actions, Grassroots North Shore is participating in a phone bank with the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin to alert people who are on the Voter Purge list. The list comprises registered voters who apparently have not voted in any election in the last four years and has been developed by the Wisconsin Election Commission. The goal of this strictly nonpartisan effort is to get as many people registered as possible ahead of both the nonpartisan and partisan elections in 2022. The League has kindly set up our own GRNS phone bank list at https://www.openvpb.com/vpb_bycode/A494E4E-658806. You can view the really simple script and/or sign up for a phone bank refresher and script walk-through either on Wednesday, July 7, at 4pm or Saturday, July 10, at 10am. Once you sign up, an automatic email reply will confirm your participation and send you the Zoom link for the session. Of course if you're an experienced phone banker, you can use the link to the phone bank above to just plunge right in. (Just so we know who is participating and when, please text Nancy Kaplan at 443-465-1920 or email her at [email protected] when you begin phoning.)

While we continue to wait for the US Senate to pass the For the People Act and/or the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, nothing is more important than voter registration efforts ahead of 2022. That's how we combat voter suppression laws (and there are many, many of these already in Wisconsin, even if Governor Evers will veto any new ones that come his way).

Republicans have somehow decided that they can't win a majority of voters so they are resorting to reducing turnout in hopes that more voters who lean toward Democrats will be discouraged or prevented from voting, as compared to those who tend to vote for Republicans. They are probably wrong about their assumption. As the Washington Post puts it, "There is precious little evidence that the expanded turnout ... accrues to Democrats’ benefit," at least at the congressional level — after all Republicans picked up seats in the 2020 elections. But history shows that they are right about presidential elections. In the past eight presidential elections, Republicans have indeed won the White House three times, but only once — with the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004 — have they won the popular vote for President. The New York Times offers a comprehensive explanation and history of these peculiar elections.

 

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on voting rights and redistricting

US Supreme Court watchers will have been disappointed again today because the Court has not yet ruled on Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, a case challenging the Arizona law that requires the ballots of people who vote outside the precinct in which they are registered to be discarded. As Oyez.org explains, "If officials determine the voter voted out of precinct (OOP), the county discards the ballot in its entirety, even if (as is the case in most instances), the OOP voter properly voted (i.e., was eligible to vote) in most of the races on the ballot. The Democratic National Committee challenged this OOP policy as violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act because it adversely and disparately affects Arizona’s Native American, Hispanic, and African American citizens." Oral arguments were heard on March 2, 2021. You can listen to the argument or read the transcript here. The opinion will be released on Thursday, July 1, 2021, the last day of the Court's term.

The case revolves around what's called the "disparate impact" element of the Voting Rights Act. The "disparate impact" standard does not rely on legislative intent. But because there is some concern about what the Court will rule, based on the way oral arguments went, the Department of Justice is basing its newly announced suit against new Georgia voting restrictions law on the "discriminatory intent" standard in Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. In its press release, the Department of Justice explains, "The United States’ complaint contends that several provisions of Senate Bill 202 were adopted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race. The Justice Department’s lawsuit alleges that the cumulative and discriminatory effect of these laws — particularly on Black voters — was known to lawmakers and that lawmakers adopted the law despite this."

Congress has recessed for the July 4 holiday, but the Wisconsin legislature is barreling along. The legislature plans to pass the biennial budget, with a tax cut of $3 billion over two years — mostly benefiting the wealthy, naturally — and a provision ending the long freeze on in-state tuition at University of Wisconsin schools. (Meanwhile, a sophisticated academic study concludes that lowering taxes for the wealthy and corporations doesn't result in an improved economy for all — see this article in Bloomberg News.)

And in case you missed this tidbit, Republicans will try to take a case over their contracts with lawyers hired in December 2020 and January 2021 in anticipation of litigation over redistricting to the Wisconsin Supreme Court later this week. The Journal Sentinel notes, however, that the plan "may be risky because the high court on Friday [June 26] reminded conservatives that it wants those bringing cases to follow regular procedures instead of engineering ways to get them to the justices as fast as possible."

In COVID-19 news, it's now apparent that almost all of the new cases, in Wisconsin and across the nation, involve people who have not been vaccinated (see the AP story). But the future here is a bit cloudy. While so-called "breakthrough infections" (infections involving fully vaccinated people) are relatively rare, the Delta variant has been detected in about three-dozen cases in Wisconsin, "but the real number is expected to be much higher" (cbs58). So the state could see a surge in cases, and a surge in hospitalizations and deaths, in areas of the state where vaccination rates are not optimal.

On a final note, there's been an update to the hours and days you can drop by our office (5600 W. Brown Deer Rd, Suite 116) to pick up Fair Maps signs. The office will be closed this week (June 28-July 4), but will be available for those who want to pick up signs on Wednesday, July 7 from 4:30 to 6:30pm and on Saturday, July 10 from 11am to 1pm. Brown Deer Road is under construction, so please show extra caution in the area.

 

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ACA, yay; For the People Act, not so much

So Ron Johnson walks into a Juneteenth celebration in Milwaukee. Guess what happens? (I feel a little like I'm writing for Stephen Colbert's segment "Meanwhile"!)

You've probably already heard that the US Supreme Court ruled, 7-2, that "neither the states nor the individuals challenging the law have a legal right to sue, known as standing." In the majority opinion authored by Justice Stephen Breyer and joined by Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, Roberts, Kavenaugh, and Coney Barrett, the Court ordered the case returned to the lower court with instructions to dismiss it. As a result, Obamacare lives! For a deeper analysis and history of the case, see an article at scotusblog.com. The Washington Post's analysis suggests that "While health care remains a potent political issue — and the Affordable Care Act has shortcomings Democrats have acknowledged — the latest court ruling suggests that Republican chances of winning a legal battle to kill it are now much diminished." Republicans are apparently now admitting that "the battle would now focus on the policy fight in Congress." Twelve years in the making, we have finally come away victorious!

The next big partisan fight — on voting rights and election administration — is already looming. Majority Leader Schumer is planning to put the For the People Act (also know as HR1 and S1) up for a test vote today. The act would require non-partisan redistricting for congressional seats, among other things. The vote to begin debate will undoubtedly run into a filibuster, but the fight is really just beginning. The Washington Post has the bird's eye view.

Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes is asking people to sign a petition, calling on the U.S. Senate to pass the bill. (Of course, he's also using this appeal to raise money, but you can safely ignore the pitch.) The League of Women Voters is also asking people to call Senator Baldwin and Senator Johnson to tell them to Vote Yes on the For the People Act (S1). Return control of our government back where it belongs — into the hands of the people. You can reach Senator Baldwin's office at 202-224-5653, or by email. And Senator Johson's office at 202-224-5323, or by email. If you do nothing else this week, at least show your support for the bill. Senate staffers will tally up the calls and emails so your efforts will not be for nought!

As Paul Waldman in the Washington Post's Plum Line blog writes, however, "things are about to get much harder for Biden and Democrats." As he explains, "we’ve been caught in a holding pattern as Democrats try to pass an infrastructure bill and electoral reform, both of which are being held hostage by Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). Every sane person understands that Republicans will never support either, so the most likely outcome is that electoral reform will fall to a GOP filibuster and infrastructure will be passed through a majority reconciliation vote." Protecting voting rights and reigning in partisan gerrymandering are two of the most serious issues it looks as if we might have to shelve. If the For the People Act fails, we will need to ensure that Governor Evers wins re-election next year so that we can preserve a veto over redistricting maps the GOP will likely adopt if they win the governorship in 2022. Remember, Texas redrew its electoral maps in 2003, in the middle of the decade, when Republicans won control of both houses of the legislature. It would not be the least bit surprising if new maps are adopted here in 2023, if a Republican Governor takes over!

President Biden has already taken a hit because of his inability to fulfill many important campaign pledges — raising the minimum wage, creating a public health insurance option, providing new funding for child care, and guaranteeing the right to collective bargaining, for example. All of these proposals are pretty popular. Yet at FiveThirtyEight.com, Biden's overall approval rating is down to 51.7%, better than the former guy's at this stage in his *residency but lower than most other recent presidents'. The good news, though, is that Biden's disapproval stands at 42.6%, nine percentage points lower than his approval.

The events list for the next two weeks is pitiful. But that doesn't mean all worthy political activity has come to a halt. The Democratic Party is sponsoring a weekend of action on June 26-27 to organize around local issues in the Governor's Budget. Sign up here! The party is also providing grassroots training for organizers. You can see the summer schedule here, with the proviso that the schedule is subject to change.

The League of Progressive Seniors — an organization Grassroots North Shore works closely with — is holding a fundraiser to enable it to set up a billboard, create postcards and flyers, and pay for statewide distribution of materials. The subject of these efforts is Robin Vos and his stubborn refusal to allow Wisconsin to expand Medicaid under the auspices of the Affordable Care Act. The Medicaid Expansion would bring $1.6 BILLION to our state's General Purpose Revenue pool and 70% of Wisconsin's people support it. (All donations to the League are appreciated. Suggested donation is $50.) The event will take place on the patio at the home of Jackie Boynton and Peter McAvoy, 3945 North Harcourt Place, Shorewood, 53211. With questions or concerns, email Patty Yunk or Jackie Boynton.

EVENTS

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the attack on democracy

It's only mid-June but already it feels as if the Dog Days of August are here! The events list below is still pretty thin. But there are a few events that will be taking place IN PERSON! YAY!! Drinking Liberally Milwaukee is going to hold its next meeting (this evening) at Estabrook Park's Beer Garden; Drinking Liberally Wauwatosa is going to hold its meeting (for vaccinated people) tomorrow at Camp Bar (6600 W. North Ave., Tosa); and the League of Progressive Seniors is celebrating its 5th Anniversary on Jackie Boynton's patio on June 24. See the particulars in the event list.

And Grassroots North Shore is dipping its toes in the face-to-face (but still masked) waters. Beginning Wednesday, June 23, 2021, the Grassroots North Shore office will be open for limited hours to distribute Fair Maps Signs! Hours will be Wednesdays, 4:30 – 6:30pm and Saturdays, 11am – 1pm. A donation of $5 per sign is appreciated. Please wear a mask in the building. Our office is at 5600 W. Brown Deer Road, Suite 116, Brown Deer, WI 53223. It would help immensely if the For the People Act could pass the U.S. Senate. But we need to keep pushing this issue with the Wisconsin legislature. In particular, we urge you to call your Assembly and Senate Representatives to urge them to hold a public hearing for Assemby Bill 395 and its Senate companion SB 389. You can find their contact info here. (For a wealth of information you can use to talk to you representatives, your family, and your friends, visit the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's web page for Fair Voting Maps). Then pick up your phone AND your sign!

Gerrymandering is just one way of rigging elections to ensure a desired outcome. But there are of course many others. We're seeing an avalanche of legislation all across the country that seeks to limit who can vote, how people can vote, and when they can vote. The Brennan Center For Justice has just completed and published an analysis of these bills and have concluded that "the harshest voter suppression bills enacted this year have been introduced and enacted in starkly partisan fashion by Republican legislatures and governors." Senator Joe Manchin's belief that election and voting rights legislation should be bipartisan notwithstanding, the GOP has launched this attack on the fundamental tenet of democracy without support from voters or the other major party. Democracy requires that the will of the people, as expressed through elections, must be honored.

Even more worrisome is the parallel effort to give legislatures in Republican-controlled states the tools they could use to overturn future elections, both presidential elections and those for lower offices, including state and local ones. For a great account of what's happening where, see "14 GOP-Controlled States Have Passed Laws to Impede Free Elections" in Mother Jones. "While GOP-controlled legislatures rush to make it harder for Democratic constituencies to vote, they are also intensifying their control over how elections are run and how votes are counted, after Trump tried to overturn the 2020 election results."

These paired actions — tightening control over access to the ballot box and politicizing and corrupting the administration of elections — have been mounted in the wake of "the former guy's" efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, concerted efforts that included intense pressure on the Department of Justice to take up the *resident's cause" and a violent insurrection on January 6 whose purpose was to interfere with the certification of the Electoral Collage votes that elected President Biden.

To many of us, the GOP efforts sound alien and bizarre. But the project of winning elections by suppressing votes and controlling the rules for administering elections have been around for at least a century and half. In this morning's Plum Line post, "Rand Paul offers an accidentally useful Jim Crow analogy in rationalizing his party’s illiberal shift", Greg Sargent unmasks the logic of these maneuvers: "What’s important about these shifts is that they seek to formalize and facilitate what we saw in the months after the 2020 election. It isn’t simply about trying to work the refs or about bending the rules to suit political ends. It’s about changing the rules at the outset to make a rejection of the popular will something that’s part of the legal process." The purpose, Sargent writes: "limiting the involvement of the public in decision-making." I hope you'll read and think about the whole article. It frames the events of the last nine months in a novel and revealing way.

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We all need to engage

ics. And the need for your participation is urgent. Here are several issues arising right here in Wisconsin that need your prompt action.

From the Fair Maps Coalition: Over the last few days, legislative Republicans have been rushing a bill through Assembly and Senate committees with little notice to mess with the redistricting process.

Senate Bill 385 and Assembly Bill 369 are partisan moves to delay the redistricting process, which will disenfranchise voters next spring and could be a move for Republicans to rig the game even further.

The Fair Maps Coalition firmly stands in opposition to these unnecessary, anti-democratic and overly-complicated “solutions” to a problem that barely exists.

We need your help to contact your legislator and tell them you oppose AB369/ SB385 and want an open, fair, honest, and transparent map-drawing process.

Read more about the bill here. And find contact information for your Assembly and Senate officials here.
From the Democratic Party's Voter Protection Program: Our Vote, Our Voice Wisconsin

Wisconsin elections are close. 4 of the past 6 presidential elections here were decided by less than 1%, and we elected Joe Biden by only 20,682 votes last year — or about 3 votes per polling place. With the governorship and a tossup Senate seat on the line in 2022, we cannot wait to start protecting voters.  

That’s why we’re launchingOur Vote, Our Voice right now — 18 months before the Midterm Elections. We are focused on consistent challenges Wisconsinites face in our elections year after year: recruiting poll workers to staff and open polling places across the state, and planning a big voter registration drive later this summer. This program is centered around relational and community organizing — because we are the best organizers for our own communities.  So, whether that means inviting your family on the North Side of Milwaukee to be poll workers or getting your friends across the country to come to our phonebanks, there’s a place for everyone in this program. 

Phonebank/Friendbanks: We’ll be making calls to Wisconsinites to talk about why voting rights matter and to get them involved as a Poll Worker, and then we’ll give you the tools to engage your own community in the fight for voting rights.

Training is offered at every event, so no need to prepare anything in advance—we’ll provide scripts & resources, so all you need is a computer, a phone, and your enthusiasm!

Become a Poll Worker: Are you a Wisconsin resident? Being a poll worker is the most direct way you can support your community during an election! Join our 30-minute Info Session to learn more about being a Poll Worker and how to get involved in 2022!
From the North Shore Fair Maps Team: Are you tired of your legislator ignoring your concerns? In the last 10 years only 3 Wisconsin state legislative seats have changed parties. In 2020 18 state Assembly races and 5 Senate races were uncontested. In 2016 over half of all state positions on the ballot had no challengers. In these races candidates didn’t have to run a campaign or offer competing ideas. While self-sorting contributes to this, so do Wisconsin’s wildly gerrymandered maps. Cities of all sizes and most counties were purposely split to “pack and crack” those communities in order to minimize district competitiveness.

Are you mad as hell and don’t want to take it anymore? Well there is something you can do! The Peoples’ Maps Commission (PMC), whose bipartisan members were selected by retired judges, are going to submit proposed legislative maps to the legislature that focus on keeping Communities of Interest together. A Community of Interest (COI) is a geographic area in which residents share common interests and concerns that deserve consideration by their elected representatives. Gerrymandering experts agree that focusing on COIs will significantly increase the competitiveness of legislative districts and empower citizens to hold their elected representatives accountable.

This is where you come in. The PMC is asking citizens from across Wisconsin to map their Community of Interest and submit it to the Commission. Through the wonders of data science, your COI data, along with that of thousands of other Wisconsinites, will be used to determine consensus COIs that need to be kept together in our new maps. Please sign up for a one hour Zoom session for a facilitated conversation with a small group of folks in your area and draw your Community of Interest map. One hour to help save democracy in Wisconsin. Please do it now.

Elections that are available to all eligible voters, that are as convenient as possible to encourage wide participation, and that are administered in honest, professional, and non-partisan ways — free and fair elections are the bedrock and the foundation of a democratic system. But casting a vote is only one part of your duty as an informed citizen. Engagement in many other activities — like those listed above — is also vital to a vibrant and responsive democratic system. Of course our lives are filled with other obligations and pleasures, never more so than now as the pandemic recedes from the center of our mental life. But working to strengthen our democratic institutions and traditions has to be part of what we do. If we continue to allow an erosion of voting rights all over the country as well as right here in Wisconsin, the threat to our country will continue to grow.

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Are We There Yet?

It's really beginning to look like summer. And the pandemic in this country — though not in the rest of the world — is subsiding. Those of us who are fully vaccinated can resume many activities that we have avoided for more than a year now. Mask-wearing is now optional, although local public health mandates should continue to be observed. Still, the end is in sight, for which we are all no doubt grateful.

In light of that good news, in fact, my husband and I are going to visit family in Baltimore and to see our grandson for the first time in 18 months — a very long time in the life of a 4 year old and even longer in the life of his grandparents! As a result, I'm taking a two-week hiatus from the newsletter. I've included three weeks of events in this one (rather than the two week list I usually include) to tide you over. But if you need more updated information, you can always check the calendars of the Democratic Party of Milwaukee County and the Southeast Wisconsin calendar. They're both on our website.

Grassroots North Shore's work continues, though. The Gun Violence Prevention team has several action items for you to take:

  1. Please call or email Senator Darling to support AB193/SB200 which creates grants to local government for 1) training staff at a firearm retailer or firearm range on how to recognize a person that may be considering suicide; 2) providing suicide prevention materials for distribution at a firearm retailer or firearm range; or 3) providing voluntary, temporary firearm storage. She is on the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, which will vote on this bill soon. 

  2. Please save the date for Wear Orange Weekend on June 4-6, 2021. Wear Orange Day (June 4) is National Gun Violence Prevention Awareness Day. Plan your orange outfit now and stay tuned for more ways to get involved in the weekend's activities. 

  3. The GOP leadership has stripped all gun violence prevention provisions out of the state budget. These policies will be introduced as a package of bills in early June. More info will be shared as details are confirmed.

Our new Writers Club wants you to write. Write letters to the editor. Write to your assembly person in Madison. Write to your senators in Madison. Write to your representatives in Washington, DC. Write to your senators in Washington, DC. Write, right? And join the group!

Our upcoming event, Green Is Good — on Sunday, June 13, at 7pm — is already attracting a lot of attention. You still have plenty of time to sign up. But 54 people already have. Don't miss your chance to hear from Kevin Kane (Green Homeowners Association), Mayor Bryan Kennedy (Glendale), Mandela Barnes (Lt. Governor) and Lisa Geason-Bauer (Evolution Marketing on Green Benefits to Business and the Economy). People often turn away from climate change discussion because they feel powerless to change the situation. Aside from electing politicians who care, “what can we do?” is the common response. This forum will help us answer that question, not from a national perspective or political stage, but from where we live — our homes and communities. The panelists will discuss what individual homeowners can do to make their own lives greener. Because doing nothing is not an option. Please join us You can read more about it on our home page.

And in news items that probably won't be covered in the mainstream media — and certainly not by the increasingly slender Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — here is some information you might find useful, or at least interesting:

  • Although at least 18 of their members have been indicted for their role in the January 6 insurrection, the Proud Boys appear undaunted. David Neiwert at Daily Kos notes that "Prosecutors in [Ethan] Nordean’s case filed a document last Thursday that gave details of some of the Proud Boys’ messages after Jan. 6. It makes for chilling reading since it makes abundantly clear that the violent far-right extremists who make up their membership rolls are not going to slow down anytime soon, instead planning to ratchet up the violence in the coming months and years." The rest of the piece is downright chilling.

  • As published in The Hill and excerpted in Rick Hasen's Election Law Blog, Republicans see 2021 as a prime opportunity for partisan gerrymandering to guarantee they'll win back control of the House in 2022. See the excerpt or read the full article.

  • The Atlanta Journal Constitution discusses a lawsuit that seeks to stop local election takeovers in Georgia voting law. This article is also excerpted in Hasen's Election Law Blog: "An election integrity organization sued over Georgia’s voting law Monday, challenging provisions that allow state takeovers of local elections, shorten absentee ballot deadlines and change absentee ID requirements. The case is the seventh federal lawsuit trying to throw out parts of the voting law. It was filed by the Coalition for Good Governance, five county election board members and several voters."

  • And in truly depressing news, a new CBS poll reckons that 67% of Republicans believe President Biden is not the legitimate winner of the 2020 election. These same respondents still think the party needs to persuade more voters with popular policies and ideas, albeit by a slim margin (53%). The other 47% think the way the GOP will win is by changing state voting rules, presumably to discourage or eliminate the votes of those who are likely to vote for the other party. The discussion of the poll is quite detailed and covers a number of issues. So go look at the whole thing.
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Better Late Than Never

My apologies for the day-late newsletter. Yesterday was just a crazy day in my household. Today, though, is calm and collected.

On Sunday, May 2, Grassroots North Shore held "Mopping Up Wisconsin's Map Mess," a big event about gerrymandering in this state. More than 200 people registered for it. Deborah Patel, who leads the North Shore Fair Maps Action Team, moderated an outstanding discussion panel consisting of Deb Andraca, Assembly Representative for District 23; Mel Barnes, Staff Counsel at Law Forward; and Carlene Bechen, Grassroots Organizer for the Fair Maps Coalition. The video of the event is now available on our YouTube channel. It's well worth your time.

If you want to find out more about the #EndGerrymandering movement in Wisconsin, sign up to attend the next meeting of the North Shore Fair Maps Action Team, on Monday, May 10, at 7pm on Zoom. The meeting, "Across the Divide," will feature folks across the political divide (and from across the country), all working to #EndGerrymandering. The May 10 featured speaker will be Walter Olson, Senior Cato Fellow and Republican co-chair of the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission. This meeting will also feature speakers from a variety of political perspectives. Wisconsin was gerrymandered by Republicans. Maryland was gerrymandered by Democrats. No matter where it happens, it hurts us all. Please sign up. You should also sign up to get one or more #EndGerrymandering yard signs. They're free. And they help raise awareness of the issue with your neighbors and passersby.

Right now, the legislative session is in full swing, dealing with a number of issues supporters of Grassroots North Shore care deeply about. But it's really hard, sometimes, to be informed about legislative events until after they happen. Middle Wisconsin, a non-profit and volunteer run online magazine, has recently published an article explaining how and why to sign up for the legislative notification service for topics that may interest you. Have a look. You might want to dip into the other articles on offer also.

Looking ahead: Our next Grassroots Town Hall event, "Green is Good!", will take place on Sunday, June 13, from 7pm - 8:15pm. On Zoom, of course. Co-sponsored by Wisconsin Conservation Voters, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Jewish Democrats, the program will feature Glendale Mayor Bryan Kennedy; Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes; and Lisa Geason-Bauer from Evolution Marketing. Kevin Kane from the Green Homeowners Association will moderate the panel. So save the date! Or better yet, RSVP now.

Looking back with an eye toward next year: Here's some granular detail from the April 6 election for the seven North Shore suburbs in Milwaukee County. (Ozaukee County data should be featured in a forthcoming newsletter). The data include vote totals, percentages and turnout by community and by ward for the race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction and for the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, Branch 3 — two of the races in which Grassroots North Shore endorsed a candidate and about which we sent postcards to Democratic women in our communities to urge them to vote. Of course, we cannot claim all the credit for the higher-than-statewide turnout averages in our area, but it looks as if our postcard effort helped our candidates win pretty decisively (except in Ward 2 in River Hills!).

Finally, there is a lot happening in national news that we suspect will affect our local election outcomes, chief among which is today's decision (or punt, perhaps) of the Facebook Oversight Board regarding "the former guy's" presence on the platform. Essentially, the Board concluded that the decision to ban the former president was well-founded at the time but that its "indefinite status" would need to be revisited in six months. In other words, Zuckerberg will have to make the decision himself, six months from now. Meanwhile he-who-shall-not-be-named will have to remain unable to use Facebook or Instagram. (He's been permanently banned from Twitter.) The Board also took the occasion to issue a well-deserved reprimand of Facebook for its failure to provide defined standards for indefinite suspensions. (See Talking Points Memo for one take on this development.) So, some reprieve there but no ultimate decision. Which is unfortunate. The silence from that quarter has been wonderful.

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Elections matter

The first set of data from the 2020 census has been released and the news is somewhat better for Democrats than they had feared. Although reliably blue New York and California are both slated to lose a congressional seat while reliably red Texas will gain two and Florida one, the population shift to the Sun Belt was not as big as some thought it would be. So the elections for Congress in 2022 do not look as dire for Democrats as they could have been. That said, it's important to stress that the outcomes of elections are essentially governed by three processes: 1) the electoral district maps — who draws them and how they are drawn; 2) who is able to vote and who does vote — the rules and regulations around voter registration, the number and distribution of polling places, the rules for early voting and vote by mail, and so on; and 3) who is empowered to count and certify the vote. All three areas are under stress from Republican legislatures nationwide, including our own.

The first concern — who draws the district maps for Congress and for the state legislative houses — has been much in the news over the last few years as cases disputing them have focused on both racial and partisan gerrymandering. To learn more about what is at stake in Wisconsin, come to our "Mopping Up Wisconsin's Map Mess" on Sunday, May 2, from 7pm - 8:30 pm. The event will feature our own 23rd Assembly District representative, Deb Andraca, the lead sponsor of a bill to address gerrymandering in Wisconsin that will soon be introduced in the legislature. The following week, the North Shore Fair Maps Action Team is holding its meeting on Monday, May 10, at 7pm with featured speaker Walter Olson, Senior Cato Fellow and Republican co-chair of the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission. Wisconsin was gerrymandered by Republicans. Maryland was gerrymandered by Democrats. The team has invited Mr. Olson to speak because gerrymandering is pursued by both parties when they're in power. No matter where it happens, it hurts us all.

The second concern right now is the barrage of laws designed to make voting harder for people — especially people of color, young people, the elderly, and the disabled — to have access to the ballot box. Such laws restrict the pool of voters by implementing strict voter ID laws, by limiting the use of vote-by-mail, by putting obstacles in the way of registering to vote, by closing or moving polling places, and many other restrictive practices that discourage participation in elections. Many of these practices have already been implemented in Wisconsin, but that doesn't mean they cannot be tweaked and tightened some more. So, for example, Republicans are proposing to require people who want to vote early in person to fill out a request for an absentee ballot first and then fill out the certification envelope once they have received a ballot and have voted, doubling the paperwork and the time it takes to complete the process. (Right now, the certification envelope does double duty by acting as the request for the ballot as well as the voter's certification of identity.) There are a number of national groups who are pushing back to try to keep Republicans from further restricting voting rights. And the national press has been following these developments pretty closely.

The third area has received less attention, perhaps because Americans have had faith in the fair administration of elections until now. But as the "audit" currently under way in Arizona (and soon to be repeated, apparently in Michigan) shows, those who count and certify votes have significant power over the outcome of elections. For a deeper discussion of this issue, see Rick Hasen's NYTimes op-ed, "Republicans Aren’t Done Messing With Elections". Hasen explains why the newly passed law in Georgia allowing the legislature to remove county election officials and replace them with people they appoint is so worrisome. Introducing clearly partisan processes and people into the administration of elections undermines efforts to ensure that elections are administered without partisan interference. In effect, it makes it possible to "find" votes or to "uncover fraud" when the outcome is "undesirable." This last concern is deeply troubling.

Right now, Wisconsin's governor, Tony Evers, will veto gerrymandered maps, more restrictive access to voting, and attempts to tamper with clean and fair election administration. But not everywhere is so fortunate. And if we fail to re-elect Governor Evers, we are likely to fall prey to these same efforts to pollute our elections in the future. To stay on top of these issues, follow Rick Hasen's Election Law posts. And sign up for the May 2 gerrymandering event and/or the May 10 North Shore Fair Maps meeting.

The For the People Act (S. 1) and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act are antidotes to much of the mischief taking place in the states. But election and voting issues are hardly the only serious problems we face right now. The Criminal Justice Reform Team is meeting at 6pm TONIGHT to discuss three competing and confusing approaches to much needed reform. The team is meeting with key legislators and tracking the progress of a bill Representative David Bowen is drafting to begin the process of collecting reliable data on various criminal justice practices. Please consider joining to help in this effort. You can still sign up for tonight's meeting.

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