Chief Inspector Pat Butler checks absentee ballots at the polling place at Mendota Elementary School in Madison on Nov. 3. Credit: Steve Apps / Wisconsin State Journal

WI’s political split; few election fraud complaints verified; youth prisons worsen; warring communities face water problems; state rep. lives outside district


Of note: This week we highlight our story about Wisconsin’s enduring and growing political divide, brought in sharp relief by the bitter 2020 presidential election. Reporters Nora Eckert and Anya van Wagtendonk explore how that partisan split played out in Door County, one of two counties President Joe Biden flipped in the county’s tightest election in at least 40 years. Business owners found themselves criticized for pro-racial equity or pro-police signs outside their businesses, and the county Republican Party headquarters was vandalized. “This was the worst it’s ever been,” said Wisconsin Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh.

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During a summer of nationwide racial unrest in 2020, Sage Conrad, general manager of Bearded Heart Coffee in Baileys Harbor, Wis., hung “Black Lives Matter” signs at the café and an adjacent boutique she owns. Most of Conrad’s customers applauded the message, she says. But several longtime customers left angry voicemails vowing to never return. Photo taken Jan. 19, 2021. Credit: Brett Kosmider for Wisconsin Watch

In evenly split Wisconsin, partisan divides may only grow

Wisconsin Watch — January 23, 2021

This summer, amid the country’s roiling pandemic and racial unrest, Sage Conrad hung signs outside of the café her parents own. The message was simple: “Black Lives Matter.” Conrad, the shop’s general manager, also placed signs at an adjacent boutique she owns in the Door County, Wisconsin, town of Baileys Harbor. The family typically kept business apolitical, but Conrad felt the moment’s gravity called for the gesture.

Most of Conrad’s customers applauded the message of solidarity. But several longtime customers left angry voicemails vowing to never return. Another showed up to shout disapproval, she said. Such was life in small-town Wisconsin as hyper-partisan rhetoric echoed and the state was poised to play a major role in the 2020 presidential election.

Chief Inspector Pat Butler checks absentee ballots at the polling place at Mendota Elementary School in Madison on Nov. 3. Credit: Steve Apps / Wisconsin State Journal

In ‘thousands of complaints’ about Wisconsin election, few that could be substantiated

Wisconsin State Journal — January 25, 2021

In December, with then-President Donald Trump continuing to falsely claim that massive fraud and other voting irregularities had denied him a second term, top Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature said they were reviewing “thousands of complaints” about the Nov. 3 election. The majority of them, however, were mass-generated form letters making nonspecific claims about alleged irregularities, a right-wing fraud-finding effort and a clip from Fox’s Sean Hannity show. The Wisconsin State Journal was able to identify just 28 allegations of election fraud or other irregularities that were specific enough to attempt to verify, but could only partially substantiate one, involving 42 votes.

Conditions worsening at Lincoln Hills juvenile lockup, report finds

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — January 25, 2021

Conditions are worsening at Wisconsin’s youth lockup, with exhausted guards more frequently restraining teens at the Northwoods facility, according to a report released Monday. Those held at Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls aren’t receiving enough programming, in part because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the vast majority say they aren’t treated with respect. Staff members, meanwhile, fear for their safety, according to the report by a court-ordered monitor for the troubled facility. “Staff are clearly exhausted, frustrated and based on (internal) data and interviews, fear for their safety,” monitor Teresa Abreu wrote.

In this file photo, state Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, R-River Falls, speaks at a press conference in Eau Claire. Credit: Rich Kremer / WPR

Documents suggest Assembly lawmaker lives outside district in violation of state law

WPR — January 28, 2021

A western Wisconsin lawmaker has for years claimed one address as his home for tax purposes and another for voting purposes. Evidence suggests he does not live in the Assembly district he represents, which would be a violation of state law. Allegations that Republican Rep. Shannon Zimmerman lives outside the 30th Assembly District surfaced before the November 2020 election in a complaint to the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The local Democratic Party filed a new complaint alleging Zimmerman failed to disclose a Florida business in his financial disclosure forms.

Decades-old boundary war adds layer of distrust in La Crosse PFAS contamination

La Crosse Tribune — January 24, 2021

When Amanda Hartley was growing up on French Island, she said it was idyllic.

“It was honestly the best place ever to grow up. We could go anywhere. We swam at the beaches and rode the escalators at the airport,” Hartley said. “And I never worried about anything.” Now 36 years old, Hartley is back at her childhood home — and they’ve just discovered their water has long been contaminated with toxic chemicals that will not go away. For French Island residents, a boundary war spanning back decades — that was ironically often rooted around water — is fueling distrust in the system.

The byline "Wisconsin Watch" represents members of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism's editorial and public engagement and marketing staff.