Declaring “Wisconsin is in the midst of election chaos,” the state GOP late this afternoon asked the Supreme Court to rule county clerks don’t have the authority to allow all voters to escape the voter ID requirements for absentee voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The filing comes on the heels of four separate federal lawsuits seeking to change the rules for how the April 7 election is conducted, each arguing that the coronavirus outbreak demands changes in procedures to protect voters and poll workers.
Still, the state GOP urged the state Supreme Court to make clear the guv’s stay-at-home order “does not and cannot affect the rules and procedures under” Wisconsin’s election laws.
In particular, the suit targets the guidance clerks in Dane and Milwaukee counties have issued that voters can avoid the voter ID requirements for casting an absentee ballot by declaring themselves “indefinitely confined” due to the pandemic.
Under state law, voters who are “indefinitely confined due to age, illness, infirmity or disability” can request absentee ballots without uploading a copy of their voter ID. Once they make the declaration, they will receive an absentee ballot for each election going forward until they are “no longer confined or fail to return a ballot.”
The party asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take original jurisdiction in its suit and issue a temporary injunction ordering the advice to be removed from public display and new statements issued “correcting their interpretation of Wisconsin’s election law.”
Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said he hadn’t seen the suit and couldn’t respond until after conferring with legal counsel. Still, he said he is following advice he has received from the Elections Commission.
“I will fully comply with it, and I am complying with it,” he said.
Meanwhile, the state’s top elections official says it would be inappropriate for voters to use the “indefinitely confined designation” simply as a way to get around the voter ID requirement for those voting absentee.
Still, Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe wrote in a memo to commissioners ahead of a meeting today it is up to individuals to determine on their own if they meet the standard. She noted the “unique circumstances of the current public health crisis” and the ensuing travel restrictions, which has caused issues for those who have an ID but lack the technology at home to include a copy with their absentee ballot.
The issue has popped up because the clerks for Dane and Milwaukee counties have advised voters they can use the designation if they’re having an issue meeting the photo ID requirements for their absentee ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The move has prompted at least one complaint filed with the commission.
Wolfe wrote commission staff has told clerks if they don’t believe voters understood the declaration while requesting an absentee ballot, they can contact them for confirmation of their status. Still, clerks should use “appropriate discretion” and any request for information shouldn’t be “accusatory in nature.”