Don’t Like the Election Results? Change Them!
December 11, 2018
Just when you thought it was safe to declare the 2018 midterm elections over…
Historically, the results of elections have always been honored, even when the fairness of a given contest is debatable. In recent history, for example, some people questioned to what extent the elections of John F. Kennedy1, Richard Nixon2, Ronald Reagan3, George W. Bush4, and Donald Trump5 were influenced by domestic and/or foreign interference. Nevertheless, these men were sworn in as president with the full rights and privileges afforded to that office.
However, in the 2018 midterms, some have begun to question whether the line that protects the results of elections has been crossed.
On November 6, 2018, Wisconsin voters chose to replace incumbent Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, with Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, a Democrat. The same night, Wisconsinites elected a new attorney general, Democrat Josh Kaul. Despite Democrats’ electoral victories, Republicans retained control of both chambers of the Wisconsin State Legislature. And this week, in the lame-duck session, the Legislature passed several bills that would limit the powers of the governor and the attorney general. These bills will go into effect in the new legislative session, unless outgoing Governor Walker vetoes them (which is unlikely).
Among their provisions, the bills limit the governor’s ability to overturn current work requirements for health care recipients under the Affordable Care Act, restrict the governor’s ability to ban guns on Wisconsin State Capitol grounds, and prevent the governor from appointing a new head of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation until September, giving the Legislature the ability to make lower appointments in the meantime.
In the wake of these actions, some observers have strongly criticized Wisconsin Republicans. Governor-elect Evers will still be inaugurated in January, but some critics suggest that with the changes being pursued by the Legislature, he is essentially assuming a different office, one with fewer powers than the office he ran for. These critics argue that the Republican-controlled Legislature has figured out a way to legally change the results of the election: don’t replace the candidate, just replace the job.6
Republicans tell a different story. They argue that what they are doing is perfectly legal. The only thing that prevents lawmakers from making changes like this in a lame-duck session is timing and tradition. As long as they can organize themselves before the end of the session, they are perfectly within their constitutional authority to pass any and all legislation. Republicans also argue that these three limits are fairly small in scale when compared to the powers the new governor will retain. They aren’t voting to do away with the governor’s veto, for example; they are imposing limits that they deem necessary as a check against executive power.
Finally, Republicans insist that these limits reflect what the Wisconsin electorate really wants. Despite Democrats’ victories in the races for governor and attorney general, the Wisconsin State Legislature will remain under Republican control for the 2019-2021 term. Clearly, Republicans argue, the people of Wisconsin prefer a more conservative state government; these changes help protect the interests of Wisconsinites. (Although it is worth noting that a majority of Wisconsin voters preferred the Democratic candidates for governor and attorney general.)
- Is it appropriate for a state legislature to introduce and pass new laws in a lame-duck session (after an election has taken place)?
- Is it fair to change the powers of a political office before a new candidate is inaugurated? Does the fact that something is legal always make it something that should be allowed?
- Is it appropriate for a legislature to act in what it believes to be the best interests of the electorate? Should legislators act only on what they know to be the will of their constituents? Or do they have a responsibility to make decisions that may be unpopular?
Image credit: Mark Hoffman, Associated Press