Trump Wisconsin rally exemplifies mixed messaging on absentee voting

GREEN BAY – Wisconsin Republicans and their party’s presidential candidate are sending mixed messages to voters over whether to trust Wisconsin’s system of elections ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

Republican Party of Wisconsin chairman Brian Schimming and the state’s top elected Republican, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, urged supporters of former President Donald Trump at his Green Bay rally Tuesday to embrace early voting in Wisconsin — a form of absentee voting that Democrats have heavily promoted in recent elections.

The focus comes as national Republicans seek build a campaign in support of mail-in and early voting to compete with Democrats who have embraced the practice.

But when Trump took the stage at a rally in Green Bay, he again sought to dampen trust in the state’s election system by promoting the false claim that he would have won the presidential contest in Wisconsin 2020 if it had not been for election malfeasance driven by absentee voting in Milwaukee.

“We won this state. We won the state by a lot,” Trump told the crowd, referring to the 2020 election during which President Joe Biden defeated Trump by about 21,000 votes.

Trump said his second term was “sidelined” late into the night of election day in 2020.

“Remember, 10 o’clock, everyone’s calling me to say ‘congratulations, sir’ … I said, yeah but you know these people are cheaters,” Trump said, recounting election night. “And then at 3:02 in the morning, a lot of dumps happened. A lot of bad things happened.”

More: Gilbert: For Donald Trump, Wisconsin in 2024 looks a lot like Wisconsin in 2016

Trump has sought for four years to undermine the 2020 outcome in Wisconsin by pushing factually deficient conspiracy theories and claims about the presidential contest despite its outcome being confirmed by recounts he paid for, court rulings, a nonpartisan state audit and a study by a prominent conservative group.

Key to his argument is characterizing Milwaukee’s practice of reporting absentee ballot results all at once, often late at night when election workers have completed counting, as “ballot dumps” − signaling to supporters the results are from fraudulent ballots.

Trump also sought to throw out all in-person absentee ballots, known as early votes, during recounts of Dane and Milwaukee counties’ election results following his 2020 defeat.

In 2023, Trump used a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling declaring ballot drop boxes illegal to light a fire under his campaign to convince voters he did not lose his reelection bid. Ballot drop boxes have been used in Wisconsin for years, especially during the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic. They have been most prevalent in the state’s largest cities, including Milwaukee.

To Trump, whose national election loss was cemented when he fell in Wisconsin, the ruling by the former conservative majority on the Supreme Court means the thousands of ballots deposited into the drop boxes should be invalid and therefore state lawmakers should reverse the election outcome.

Wisconsin Republicans sought to change the narrative on such voting even as Trump stayed the course on Wisconsin’s elections.

“We must remain unified and understand who our political opponent is. It’s not us. It’s the Democrats, the people that are destroying this country,” Johnson told the Green Bay crowd. “We need to recognize that and embrace voting as it is.”

“I like voting on Election Day (but) when I became a United States Senator, I had to go absentee ballot. We need to embrace that and today is the perfect example of why,” Johnson explained. “We can’t afford to have a miserable Election Day in November and not have our votes already banked. So embrace early voting.”

Ahead of the speech, however, Schimming was unfazed by the possibility of Trump muddying his message on early voting.

“It doesn’t give me a lot of heartburn,” Schimming told reporters.

Schimming said he spoke to Republican National Committee officials, including RNC co-chairwoman Lara Trump, about promoting the benefits of voting in-person absentee.

“So I think you will see a pretty consistent message there,” he said before Trump’s speech.

Molly Beck can be reached at molly.beck@jrn.com.


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