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Testimony of Jay Heck, Executive Director, Common Cause Wisconsin

Wisconsin Senate Committee on Elections, Elections Process Reform & Ethics

May 5, 2021

In Opposition to Senate Bill 203, Senate Bill 206, Senate Bill 209, Senate Bill 212

Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI) is one of the state’s largest non-partisan political reform advocacy organizations with more than 8,000 members and activists residing in every county of the state. We have been active in Wisconsin since our founding in 1970.

We oppose four of the measures being considered by this Senate Committee today and urge members of this committee to vote against their passage. All four of these measures would make it more difficult and burdensome for Wisconsinites to be able to cast a ballot during an election. All are extremely partisan and were devised exclusively by members of one political party to attempt to gain partisan advantage in elections and without any consultation with members of other political parties or with nonpartisan election advocacy organizations such as Common Cause Wisconsin.

Specifically, we oppose:

Senate Bill 203: This bill would prohibit any individual from helping more than one non-family member return their absentee ballot. The bill would limit who can return a voter’s absentee ballot to include only the voter’s immediate family or legal guardian, with very limited exceptions.

  • This bill makes it harder for voters to return their completed ballots to have their votes counted. Voters should have access to needed assistance from trusted friends, neighbors, care providers or community groups. Many voters with disabilities who vote absentee are non-drivers and ask someone they trust to deliver their absentee ballot. If their usual driver has already delivered a ballot for someone, the voter would have to find another way to get it returned.

Senate Bill 206: This bill makes anyone who is indefinitely confined jump through several hoops in order to vote, including the voter making a statement under oath affirming the fact of being indefinitely confined. If the indefinitely confined voter is under 65, that sworn statement would need “to be signed by a physician, physician assistant, or advanced practice registered nurse who has primary responsibility for the treatment and care of the voter.” In addition, the bill specifies that the existence of an epidemic does not qualify a voter as being indefinitely confined, and kicks people off the indefinitely confined list who signed up March 12 thru November 3, 2020.

  • For many elderly and disabled voters and those with preexisting conditions who have been home bound for their own safety because of COVID, this bill is heartless. It would put voters at risk while voting for the duration of this pandemic and during any future pandemic. No other voter must submit a sworn and signed statement under oath such as this requirement sets out to do. This is a crude, blanket invalidation of the status of tens of thousands of voters, and without evidence, it implies that they all misrepresented themselves. This presumption of guilt flies in the face of free, fair, and accessible elections.

Senate Bill 209: This bill would limit absentee ballot drop boxes only to be attached to the building where the office of the clerk is located.

  • This bill increases the difficulty for voters to return their completed ballots and have their votes counted. Reducing the number of drop boxes in high populated areas (particularly Milwaukee, Madison, and other larger cities) that span miles and service thousands of voters to only one box, disadvantages the voters who do not live near the one box. Voters across the state used drop boxes to return their ballots when their clerk’s office is otherwise inaccessible or closed. Legislation should be encouraging more secure options for returning ballots, not fewer.

Senate Bill 212: This measure would require the clerk to mail the defective ballot envelope back to the voter, require the clerk to put a notice of the defect on the voter’s voter information page in MyVote, and prohibit a municipal clerk from correcting a defect on the completed absentee ballot certificate envelope. Specifically, the bill would create new felonies in the list of election frauds to punish election officials.

  • This bill addresses how clerks should act when a voter returns a completed absentee ballot with a defect in the ballot certificate. If a certificate envelope has a defect, the clerk must return the ballot to the elector and post a notification of the defect on the elector’s voter information page on MyVote website. However, not all voters can access MyVote and they would be unaware of the problem to make corrections. Additionally, the bill does not make clear if the voter will know the notice has been put in their voter information page on MyVote unless they happen to check the page. Existing law does not require notice of defects; however, the Wisconsin Election Commission guidance encourages clerks to contact the voter directly.
  • Mailing a ballot back to the voter within only a few days until Election Day will guarantee the ballot envelope is not returned corrected in time for the vote to be counted. The mail can be slow. There may not be time to return the ballot to the voter and for the voter to send it back, so the vote may not be counted.
  • Currently the clerk may look up the address or contact the voter for information. Existing law allows the clerk to mail the ballot back if there is time for the voter to correct the defect. This is a bad bill in that it will result in many ballots being tossed for information missing on the envelope. AND the bill does not allow for correction of the envelope except by the voter when the ballot and envelope is returned by mail. It does not seem to allow the clerk alternate ways for corrections, like a phone call and a visit to the clerk’s office by the voter. While a correction or cure process for absentee ballot envelopes is something that the legislature should consider and undertake, it should not be in the form of this bill. It should give clear instructions so that clerks and voters are able to correct mistakes to ensure all ballots cast are counted.

In sum, the enactment and passage into law of any of these four measures would have a detrimental effect on Wisconsin voters. There is no credible evidence that any of the restrictions that these measures would place on voting are justified or are needed and all would result in fewer eligible and fully legal voters from being able to cast their ballots. This is voter disenfranchisement of the very worst kind and it is cynical, partisan, and completely unnecessary.

Common Cause Wisconsin respectfully urges Committee Members and the full Wisconsin Legislature to reject these measures.

🗣 Your voice is needed. 🗣
Contact your state senator and your state representative and let them know that these anti-voter bills need to be defeated! Your legislators need to hear from you that this attempt to restrict election participation is not acceptable. The bills are moving quickly through the State Senate and Assembly. Take action today. (This form makes it easy to directly contact your legislators.)

Contact:
Jay Heck
Executive Director
Common Cause Wisconsin
608/256-2686 (office)
608/512-9363 (cell)
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