Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly on Thursday approved a flurry of election-related bills, sending them to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ desk — where many, if not all, of them face likely vetoes.
The Assembly approved the measures just days after the GOP-controlled state Senate advanced many of the same bills. Senate Democrats voted against all of the legislation.
The measures would, among other things, bar the use of private funds for election administration, tighten regulations on indefinitely confined voters and provide whistleblower protections for municipal clerks who report election fraud or irregularities.
Speaking to reporters before the Assembly’s floor session began Thursday, Speaker Robin Vos, a Rochester Republican, called the bills “common sense, middle of the road, election reform proposals.”
His comments came less than an hour after Assembly Democrats derided the bills. Assistant Minority Leader Kalan Haywood, D-Milwaukee, called the bills “voter suppression” that would inject “partisan control” into the state’s election systems.
After a day-long floor session, Assembly Republicans approved many of the same measures as their Senate colleagues. However, after a recess that lasted several hours on Thursday night, lawmakers failed to reach a deal on legislation that would allow municipal clerks to begin counting absentee ballots on the Monday before Election Day.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers agreed that allowing clerks to count ballots early would be beneficial to the state’s election process. However, Democrats shot down the eventual provision GOP lawmakers put forward.
GOP lawmakers also elected to table a handful of the bills approved by their Senate colleagues.
Include among the passed bills are:
The bill would create a process for nursing home and retirement home workers to assist residents with voting during a health emergency, if special voting deputies could not enter the facility.
It would also ban the use of private resources for election administration, set additional prohibitions on election fraud, clarify what information must be included on an absentee ballot certificate and bar clerks from filling in missing information on absentee ballot envelopes.
This measure would require the Wisconsin Elections Commission to resolve complaints within 60 days of receiving them unless the commission votes to extend the timeline.
Under current law, voters who are indefinitely confined may sign up to have an absentee ballot sent to them for every election, without providing photo identification.
This bill would require most indefinitely confined voters to submit a photo ID, and would establish more specific criteria for voters to qualify for the status — including a provision that “the existence of an outbreak or epidemic of a communicable disease in a voter's community does not qualify the voter as indefinitely confined.”
This measure would require the Elections Commission to confirm that people who register to vote in Wisconsin are U.S. citizens, and would require the DOT to affix a label to licenses and identification cards issued to non-citizens stating that the card is “not valid for voting purposes."
This bill would require absentee ballot applications to be separate from the envelopes voters use to return them. It would also require voters to submit a copy of their photo ID every time they request an absentee ballot, rather than just the first time.
Under the proposal, election officials could not send voters unsolicited absentee ballots. It would also bar anyone except “the voter's immediate family, the voter's legal guardian, or a person designated to return the ballot” from returning someone’s absentee ballot to a clerk or polling place.
This proposal would require the Elections Commission to check with the DOT to verify a voter’s personally identifiable information within 10 days of the voter’s registration.
Assembly Democrats attempted to attach an amendment to the bill that would implement automatic voter registration in Wisconsin. The amendment was tabled by GOP lawmakers.
This bill would give the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee the authority to bar the Elections Commission from using federal funding if lawmakers oppose the commission’s plans for using the money. It would also allow lawmakers to block state agencies from implementing federal elections guidance.
This legislation would require the Elections Commission to annually report any failures to follow election laws to the Legislature and to the Department of Administration. Under the bill, the Joint Finance Committee could punish the commission or state agencies by taking away funds or staff positions.
Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, contended that the bill was void because it included provisions from a separate piece of legislation that Republicans tabled on Thursday.
“You’ve just wasted all of our time,” Goyke said of his GOP colleagues after discovering that the bill would be “void.”
Under this bill, the Elections Commission would be required to submit weekly reports to the Legislature’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules outlining any guidance sent to municipal clerks. If the committee determined any guidance met the definition of a “rule” under current law, it could no longer be enforced.
Under this proposal, circuit courts would be required to notify election officials of any person who does not qualify for jury duty because they are not a U.S. citizen. The commission would be required to investigate and potentially remove the person from the state’s voter registration list.
This bill would provide whistleblower protections for municipal clerks who witness and report election fraud or irregularities.
This resolution would prohibit the use of private funds for election administration, and would bar anyone not legally designated as an election official from performing any task related to election administration.
Because it is a proposed constitutional amendment, it must also be approved by the Assembly, then passed again by both chambers in the next legislative session before going to voters.
Republicans introduced the resolution after the Center for Tech and Civic Life — a nonprofit backed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan — provided millions of dollars in grants to help facilitate elections throughout the state in 2020. The funding was split among communities across Wisconsin, but the lion’s share went to the state’s five largest cities, which are Democratic strongholds.