Meet Wisconsin’s Proudest Vote Suppressor

Light blue background with red-toned Christmas tree and black and white toned people putting up ornaments on the tree and a blue-toned ballot box with ballots inside it on top of the tree.

Even among vote suppressors, Wisconsin election official Robert Spindell (R) stands out for his enthusiasm for voter suppression. In December 2022, the Wisconsin Republican sent a memorandum titled “Republicans Did Exceptionally Well!” to nearly 2,000 party supporters. Sure, Republicans had lost the state’s elections for governor, attorney general and secretary of state, but Spindell wanted to spread some holiday cheer. 

Republicans should be “especially proud,” he wrote, “of how the City of Milwaukee’s gross vote went down from 74% to 63% of registered voters – 37,000 total votes less than cast in 2018.” 

As dog whistles go, it was loud and clear.

When asked, Spindell shared with the Associated Press that he handed out this memo at his own Christmas party. In his circle, apparently nothing says “Merry Christmas” like disenfranchising 37,000 voters.  

The festive spirit continued into the new year, when Spindell sent a follow-up email entitled “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” After some pleasantries, the email got down to business. This time, Spindell left no doubt about exactly how successful Wisconsin Republicans had been:

…we can be especially proud of the City of Milwaukee (80.2% Dem Vote) casting 37,000 less votes than cast in the 2018 election with the major reduction happening in the overwhelming Black and Hispanic areas.

Spindell made clear that the “major reduction happening in the overwhelming Black and Hispanic areas” was no fluke or accident. It was the product of a “well thought out multi-facetted plan” that included a “substantial & very effective Republican Coordinated Election Integrity program resulting with lots of Republican paid Election Judges & trained Observers & extremely significant continued Court Litigation.”

The story of a Wisconsin Republican bragging about suppressing minority voters is a familiar one. Ahead of the 2020 presidential election, a Republican political advisor was caught on tape telling Wisconsin Republicans “traditionally it’s always been Republicans suppressing votes in places.” He promised “[t]hat’s what you’re going to see in 2020. It’s going to be a much bigger program, a much more aggressive program, a much better-funded program.”

Yet, even by Republican standards, Spindell stands out for his brazen celebration of minority voter suppression, not just because of his overt discrimination, but because of his government position administering elections. Spindell isn’t just a Republican Wisconsonite who wants to suppress votes. He isn’t even just an election official. No, Spindell serves as the vice chair of the powerful Wisconsin Elections Commission, the very agency that oversees and sets rules for elections in the Badger State. According to the commission’s website, among its responsibilities is to “ensure compliance with federal and state election laws.”

Spindell’s Christmas memo and new year’s email are bad enough on their own. However, they are made worse by the fact that he directly links his role in the GOP’s minority voter suppression plan to his actions as a government official charged with ensuring compliance with state and federal election laws.

For example, he notes the following in all bold at the end of his Christmas memo:

I as one of the six Wisconsin Election Commissioner will continue to Fight Hard to insure the Republican and Conservative efforts to have Clean and Fair elections will continue and work hard with the other 5 Commissioners to insure the best possible Election System outcomes.

His new year’s message is worse. In it, he includes his work on the commission on the list of actions that were part of the “well thought out multi-facetted plan” that ensured the “major reduction [of voter turnout] happening in the overwhelming Black and Hispanic areas.”

Spindell points to a “Significant Reduction of Unfavorable Rulings / Guidance from the Wisconsin Election Commission” as another factor behind this decreased turnout. The unfavorable rulings and guidance he is bragging about resulted in greater restrictions on mail-in voting and increased rejections of mail-in ballots cast by lawful voters.

He also ties the suppression of minority voters to his actions on the commission that “help[ed] solve Republican encountered problems.” Exactly what problems were brought to him and how he solved them is not entirely clear. What we do know is that he twice boasted of having solved the Republican problem of too many Black citizens voting in Milwaukee.

Perhaps Republicans don’t want to distance themselves from minority voter suppression; they don’t want to disclaim it; they don’t want it to stop.

In the days following the release of Spindell’s missives, Democrats and civil rights groups called on him to resign. They were joined by a handful of conservative columnists, but not a single leader of the Republican Party. As usual, Republican officials have stayed silent, hoping this scandal — like the ones before it — will pass.

In recent years, Spindell has caused his fair share of outrage in Wisconsin that the GOP has become expert in ignoring. He is currently a defendant in multiple separate lawsuits over his role as one of former President Donald Trump’s fake electors.

You would think this incident would be a bridge too far even for the party that Trump still dominates. Republican legislative leaders, by virtue of their positions, could appoint Spindell’s replacement if he resigned, yet they are silent. 

The Wisconsin Republican Party has crucial judicial, U.S. Senate and presidential races on the horizon where suburban swing voters will likely decide the outcome. The state party too has stayed silent. 

The Republican National Committee once again finds itself mired in a story about gross and racist behavior by one of its officials. It has stayed silent as well.

It seems so easy in this case for Republicans to speak out and do the right thing. And yet, they instead choose what Martin Luther King Jr. called “betrayal.”

Perhaps Republicans don’t want to distance themselves from minority voter suppression; they don’t want to disclaim it; they don’t want it to stop. Maybe they know that in 2024 they will again need a “major reduction…in the overwhelming Black and Hispanic areas” to have a chance to carry the state. And, if so, they don’t want to criticize the guy with a “well thought out multi-facetted plan” to get it done.