Should lack of education excuse civic ignorance?

Tim Ramthun (photo, left; bio here), 65, of Hartford, Wisconsin, probably doesn’t know better.

He’s only a high school graduate who went to vocational school, so he doesn’t have the understanding of government that, for example, a political science major with a graduate school education in public management and a law degree has. So you can’t expect him to have my grasp of how elections work.

You can’t revoke them after they’re certified. I know that, and you probably know that, but he doesn’t.

A year-and-a-half into Biden’s presidency, Ramthun wants to decertify Wisconsin’s 2020 electoral slate for Biden. He called a press conference to say so. The wood for this campfire is a ruling by the political judges of Wisconsin’s supreme court that drop boxes used in that election were illegal.

To him that means, “When the ballot drop boxes were used illegally, anything and all things that went into them made them null and void the moment they went into the box,” Ramthun says (see story here), at times adopting the language of QAnon conspiracy theories to make his points (see story here).

To the rest of us, and to the law, it means the election is over, so that’s academic.

At this point, allow me to digress briefly to introduce the legal concepts of “void” and “voidable.” They’re not the same. If something is void, it’s invalid from the start, as if it never existed, and everything that flowed from it is also invalid (e.g., an invalid contract isn’t enforceable); but if something is voidable, it’s voided only if you timely object to it, otherwise it stands. Got that?

Once an election is certified, that’s it. Certification is the cutoff that ends debate and forecloses all further challenges. This means disputed elections are voidable, not void. They can be challenged, but only before they’re certified. You don’t have to take my word for this; every constitutional expert says so. The 2020 election having been certified, it’s over, and the Wisconsin court’s drop box ruling is academic, although it can be applied in future elections.

This is pretty fancy thinking, beyond the ken of a guy with a vocational school education in veterinary assistant or whatever, so you can’t really blame him very much for not getting it straight in his head.

Why do we care what Ramthun says? Because it’s part of a pattern of GOP candidates who either don’t understand, or aren’t willing to follow, the rules of our democracy that hold our society together. We have a good thing going in our country — peace, prosperity, freedom — but we could lose it all if we’re not careful.

Ramthun is news, and is holding press conferences, not because he’s an obscure and relatively harmless state representative from a part of rural Wisconsin where everyone votes Republican when they’re not milking cows; but because he’s running for governor.

Now, I don’t think it’s an issue that Ramthun embraces QAnon nonsense, or opposes saving the life of a woman for whom an abortion is a medical necessity. We’re a democracy, and Wisconsin voters can elect him, if that’s the kind of governor they want.

But as a thought experiment, let’s say he becomes Wisconsin’s governor next January and retracts his state’s 2020 electoral votes. Let’s say further that the political judges on Wisconsin’s highest court rule he can do that, even though he can’t. This wouldn’t change anything; Biden would still be president.

However, it might nudge our country a little closer to disintegration. Think about what it would mean if the United States breaks up into 50 little Monaco-like principalities, or even a couple of larger confederacies fighting wars with each other over water rights. There would be only two superpowers left in the world, China and Russia, with eventually possibly a third, India. Here in the States, is our family feud really serious enough to be worth the consequences of a divorce?

If Ramthun and his ilk (e.g., Mastriano in Pennsylvania) lose elections, we’ll be okay, even if less than fine. For now, Ramthun is getting slaughtered in the polls. But if ignoramuses like him start winning elections, we’re going to have a problem, because they won’t respect our laws which are the glue that holds our democracy together.

Maybe Republican voters need to think harder before they vote for these candidates. And brush up on their high-school civics. Especially the part where we agree to settle our differences with elections instead of guns, and when an election is over, accept the finalized results and turn our attention to the next one.

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