The threats were bad enough, said Ann Jacobs. But their cause adds insult to injury.
Jacobs chairs the Wisconsin Elections Commission, the board that administers election laws in the state. Last year, at the helm of the WEC, Jacobs said she was targeted with threats by people dissatisfied with the outcome of the election.
When she started her service in 2016, Jacobs said, the commission largely acted in consensus. That changed as the make-up of the commission altered, she said.
An October report by Wisconsin Watch found the commission deadlocked on at least 19 decisions last year, up from four in 2019 and one in 2018.
Jacobs said she attributes the shift to several factors.
“Attacking the administration of elections became seen as a way of effectuating the election of desired candidates, and that was a change,” Jacobs said. “If you can’t win the game, attack the refs. I think that was a philosophical change that was seen, I think, beginning in about 2018-ish and going forward.”
She said she does not recall receiving individual threats previously, although in the past there had been occasional threats against the body.
“This year was different in number, in scope, in vitriol,” Jacobs said. “Certainly, it was the first time that I had been targeted.”
Beside the threats themselves, Jacobs said she is troubled by the trigger: lies about the integrity of the election.
“The people who are promulgating these lies have convinced people that elections were stolen, that there was malfeasance and fraud, all of which is simply not true,” she said.
Former President Donald Trump claimed without evidence he beat now-President Joe Biden last year. Trump and his supporters filed more than 60 lawsuits challenging the outcome, according to USA Today, including some in Wisconsin.
Jacobs said lesser-level threats began when the commission decided last August that Kanye West would not appear on the ballot as a candidate for president. The threats escalated after the election.
Some people posted photos of her home on Twitter, Jacobs said. Others emailed her at her work address. Jacobs said she referred the threats to law enforcement agencies for assessment.
She credited the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, for which she is a board member, for stepping in. Security and community properties director Ari Friedman offered safety recommendations, she said.
Jacobs said she was not the only one on the receiving end of threats. She believes other commissioners were threatened, and staff members were, too.
The threats subsided when the Wisconsin lawsuits ended, Jacobs said.
Moving forward, she said the community has to stop tolerating lies when a story does not have two sides. She also wants to see a national conversation on the philosophy around voting. And she wants to return to the typical work of the WEC.
Beside the commission’s headline-grabbing decisions over the past year, Jacobs notes the body oversees a range of other matters surrounding election administration, integrity, security and infrastructure.
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About Ann Jacobs
- Local attorney
- Former chair of the local Jewish Community Relations Council
- Calling for a national conversation on voting