Wisconsin Republicans To Send Election Bills To Governor Evers
Updated Wednesday at 10 a.m. CDT
The Wisconsin Assembly planned to send bills to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday that would limit opportunities for absentee voting, make it more difficult for the elderly and disabled to cast absentee ballots and prohibit officials from filling in missing information on the envelopes of returned absentee ballots.
Evers is expected to veto all of the Republican-backed measures, which cleared the GOP-controlled Senate along party line votes earlier this year.
Democrats derided the bills as attempts to suppress voter turnout.
“There is no question this is all part of a national movement to undermine our elections so that Republicans can continue to cling to power with the support of only a minority of voters,” said Democratic Rep. Mark Spreitzer. "Ensuring that all of our friends and neighbors can voice their opinions at the ballot box is one of our state's strongest traditions. But now Republicans are adding barrier after barrier to make it so that only a privileged few can easily access their constitutional right to vote. Let me be clear: Republicans are pushing these bills because they want to make it as hard as possible to vote and they want to choose their voters."
Conservatives are pushing more than a dozen election bills following former President Donald Trump's narrow loss in battleground Wisconsin to President Joe Biden. Republican backers say the bills would address shortcomings in Wisconsin election law that were exposed during the November 2020 election.
Republican Rep. Cindi Duchow defends the proposed absentee voting changes in residential care facilities. "So, I don’t know how much experience all of you have in senior living centers, but I’m going to tell you that the people that reside there are extremely dependent on their caregivers for everything. What this bill does it ensures everybody’s vote is fair and honest. That no one is influencing them, coercing them to vote how they want them to vote. This says that our special voting deputies are gonna come in and help you vote," she said.
Duchow said it’s a “great” bill that would protect the elderly. And she said it would be valuable to families who want to know if their loved ones are voting.
Opponents say they're an attempt to perpetuate the lie that Trump actually won and are meant to disenfranchise voter groups that tend to back Democrats.
Representative Lisa Subeck, a Democrat, said the bills are built on conspiracy theories and lies.
"The votes are counted. In this case, the votes were counted, they were canvassed, they were recounted, they were litigated," she said. "And the result was the same. And now here we are with Republicans trying to change the rules to perpetuate this false narrative that somehow this election was stolen. In this case the end result though is that voters will be disenfranchised."
Wisconsin Republicans have already approved a review of the 2020 election by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau and hired retired police officers to investigate unfounded reports of widespread voter fraud. Trump's defeat was upheld following recounts in Milwaukee and Dane counties and in numerous state and federal lawsuits.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he expected results of the state audit and the other investigation by the retired police officers he hired by this fall. He said Republicans wanted to review what a Republican-ordered election audit in Arizona reveals, but he didn't anticipate doing a similar forensic exam of ballots in Wisconsin given the other probes already being done.
One of the bills up for Assembly approval would require most elderly and disabled people who are indefinitely confined to show photo ID in order to vote absentee; require all absentee voters to fill out more paperwork and show their ID every time they vote absentee, rather than just the first time as is current law; and require voters who are confined to apply to get an absentee ballot every year, rather than have them sent automatically as they are now.
Wisconsin’s disabled community has been outspoken against the proposed changes, saying they would create new barriers for people who rely on voting absentee because they cannot easily get to polling stations on election days.
“These bills make it harder for voters who already face significant challenges to have their voices heard and their votes count,” said Beth Swedeen, executive director for the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities.
Republican Representative Rick Gundrum co-sponsored one of the bills that makes changes to absentee ballot laws. He said the changes are about uniformity and creating less confusion for voters.
"If this bill is signed into law, people will still be able to apply for absentee ballots and declare that they are indefinitely confined. No one here is hindered from voting in this bill," he said.
Another bill would prohibit local elections officials from filling out missing voter information on the absentee ballot certificate, which also serves as the envelope that voters use to return ballots.
Trump sought to disqualify about 5,500 absentee ballots in Democratic-heavy Dane and Milwaukee counties, where election clerks filled in missing address information on certification envelopes.
Clerks had been filling in missing information on the certification envelopes for a dozen elections prior to November’s, based in part on guidance from the Wisconsin Elections Commission. After Trump lost, Republicans questioned the legality of the practice since state law doesn’t specifically allow it.
Under the bill, any absentee ballot missing information would be returned to the voter to fix. Officials who fill in the missing information would be committing election fraud, which is punishable by up to a $10,000 fine and three years in prison.
A third bill would disallow ballot collection events any earlier than two weeks before an election. They also would have to be located near the local clerk’s office and staffed by workers from those offices.
That change is in response to the Democracy in the Park event held in Madison city parks last year, where poll workers collected absentee ballots before the early voting period started two weeks prior to the election.
Trump argued in a lawsuit that no ballots should be counted that were collected at the Democracy in the Park events, or where election officials added missing information. On both of those claims, the Wisconsin Supreme Court said Trump had raised the issues too late and that his claims lacked supporting evidence.
Three dissenting conservative justices said the laws need to be clarified, leading to the Republican-authored bills.
Another bill up for an Assembly vote would make it a felony for an employee of a nursing home or other care facility to coerce an occupant to apply for, or not apply for, an absentee ballot. It would also require the nursing home to provide notice to relatives when special voting deputies planned to be on hand to assist residents with casting their ballots.
Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this report.