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New Wisconsin GOP chair pushes early voting

Republican Party of Wisconsin Chair Brian Schimming said he's been encouraging GOP voters to cast ballots early

voting, absentee ballots, early ballots, Kenosha
Poll workers sort out early and absentee ballots at the Kenosha Municipal building on Election Day, late Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis. Wong Maye-E/AP Photo

The new chair of the state Republican Party is encouraging more Republicans to vote early, a sharp contrast to the message pushed in the last two election cycles by former President Donald Trump.

Longtime GOP operative Brian Schimming was selected to lead the Republican Party of Wisconsin last December. The decision to hire Schimming to the job followed an election cycle in which Republicans lost races for governor and attorney general among other statewide offices, falling short of the “red wave” many Republican activists had expected.

During an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio, new state GOP Chair Brian Schimming acknowledged that Republicans need to do things differently to win future elections in Wisconsin.

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“Republicans tend to be a little bit more Election Day voters,” Schimming told WPR’s “The Morning Show.” “But I’ve said to people, ‘Look, you can’t go into Election Day 200,000 votes down in the early vote and expect to have to make it up in 13 hours.’ And so we’re encouraging an early vote.”

Absentee voting has consistently grown in popularity in Wisconsin, surging after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when many voters were looking for ways to avoid going to polling places.

In last November’s election, more than 740,000 Wisconsin voters cast absentee ballots. That number included around 318,000 who “early voted,” casting absentee ballots in person at sites designated by their local clerks.

Schimming’s endorsement of early voting come on the heels of an election cycle where Trump remained extremely prominent, endorsing candidates throughout the country and continuing to falsely assert that he had won the 2020 election. In Wisconsin, there was at least talk among Republicans loyal to Trump that lawmakers should consider scaling back absentee voting.

Asked what he would say to early voting skeptics, Schimming noted that Republicans in the last election had signed up more “election observers” to watch polls throughout the state.

“We had almost 5,000 here in this past election. So the former president’s concerns aside,” Schimming said, “leading Republicans around the state have encouraged their organizations to get involved with early voting, and we’ll do that.”

Schimming also said Republicans need to do a better job with fundraising if they want to compete with Democrats in Wisconsin.

When Republicans rewrote Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws in 2015, they decided to let political parties accept unlimited donations. In recent years, Wisconsin Democrats have used that provision to raise millions from donors around the country, sometimes with the help of celebrities.

Schimming conceded that Democrats had gotten good at raising money, partly because they had been effective at reaching out-of-state donors.

“Look, I haven’t been able to line up Hollywood folks to raise $3or $4 million by doing an online fundraiser with my party members,” Schimming said. “But the truth is we have to do a better job raising money in the state, and then look around the country for sources, too.”

Schimming said he didn’t think there was any interest from the Legislature, the governor or the courts in curtailing campaign fundraising.