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Voting Deputies Cleared To Return To Wisconsin Nursing Homes

Joaquin Corbalan
After a year of protecting nursing homes from COVID-19 by not sending special voting deputies to help complete absentee ballots, the state will once again allow deputies to enter nursing homes.

Wisconsin election officials cleared the way Tuesday for special voting deputies to return to nursing homes ahead of the April 6 elections.

Wisconsin law allows municipal clerks to send deputies into nursing homes to help residents complete absentee ballots. The state Elections Commission directed clerks not to send deputies to homes in March 2020 to protect residents from COVID-19 as the pandemic was taking hold. The directive remained in place for the November election and last month's spring primary.

Republican Commissioner Bob Spindell has been pushing the commission to get deputies back into the homes since September. He has argued, without offering any evidence, that a perception exists voting fraud is rampant in nursing homes and deputies can ensure residents fill out ballots properly.

The Legislature's Republican-controlled rules committee last month ordered the commission to rewrite the directive as an emergency rule.

Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe recommended commissioners rescind the directive. She wrote in a memo to commissioners that Republicans on the rules committee believe the commission lacks the statutory authority to order deputies to stay away from the homes and would strike down any emergency rule that would extending the directive.

The commission voted unanimously to direct clerks to contact nursing homes in their jurisdictions by March 12 to see if they would allow deputies to visit. Deputies granted access would have to follow facility safety protocols as well as state and local health requirements. If deputies are denied access, clerks would have to follow state statutes that require them to mail ballots to facility residents.

The commission also voted unanimously to direct its staff to start promulgating the new policy as an emergency rule. The commission also voted 5-1 to direct staff to research possible changes to state law to accommodate alternatives to using voting deputies during the pandemic.

The only commissioner who voted against the proposal was Spindell, who argued the staff lacks the expertise to suggest such changes. He proposed creating a committee of outside election and health officials to conduct the research but the commission voted him down.

Sen. Steve Nass, co-chairman of the Legislature’s rules committee, said in a statement that he was outraged that commissioners didn’t draft a rule before issuing another directive.

The commission also unanimously adopted a plan to mail notifications on a quarterly basis to voters who may have moved. The commission had done such mailings on a biannual basis, with the next mailing set for June. The proposal the commission approved calls for starting quarterly mailings in September. The quarterly approach would end at the beginning of 2023.

The state Supreme Court is weighing a lawsuit seeking to remove from the rolls thousands of voters who didn't respond to the last mailing in October, indicating they may have moved.

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