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 these four measures being considered by the Assembly today and urge Representatives to vote against their passage. All four would make it more difficult for Wisconsinites to vote and would result in fewer eligible voters being able to express their will at election time. All four measures are extremely partisan and were devised without any consultation or discussion with legislators from other political parties or with the wide array of non-partisan organizations who have been engaged and interested in elections and voting for many years and willing to work with legislators on how to improve elections in Wisconsin. These bills in particular put up barriers that make voting more difficult for the elderly and voters with disabilities.
Assembly Bill 179: This measure would limit voting rights of nursing home and group home residents. It may conflict with federal law which requires that nursing homes support the right of residents to vote. Under this measure, if staff offered to provide a resident with assistance, this would be a felony crime. This bill would require the administrator of the facility to notify relatives of the residents as to when the special voting deputies will be coming to the facility to assist in the casting of absentee ballots.
- Most people in these homes and facilities make decisions for themselves every day of the week. They do not need a relative next to them when they are voting and fulfilling their duty in our democracy. They should not have their right to the privacy of their vote violated. This bill goes so far as to make it illegal for employees of a retirement home or residential care facility to even encourage a resident to vote.
Assembly Bill 198: 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 if time permits 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 take up, 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.
Assembly Bill 201: This measure would no longer allow voters who are indefinitely confined or overseas to receive absentee ballots automatically. Instead, voters must apply separately for ballots related to the Spring Election and those for the General Election, and they would need to show a proscribed photo ID. If the voter does not return a primary ballot, they would not be mailed a general ballot. In addition, this bill would prohibit the Wisconsin Elections Commission (as well as municipal or county clerk or local elections board) from sending absentee ballot applications en masse, as it did in 2020 to 2.7 million Wisconsin voters.
- Forcing indefinitely confined voters to fill out an absentee ballot request several times a year is extremely burdensome. Wisconsin has multiple elections every year. The photo ID list required for voting in Wisconsin is often not an item many voters who are indefinitely confined have readily available or have access in acquiring. The mass mailing of absentee ballot applications gives the voters the choice about how and when they vote. Election administrators should have the authority and flexibility to make voting easier by being able to mail absentee ballot applications.
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 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.
Even with some amendments to these bills, they are a step backwards, as they go against the promise of democracy and freedom, and erect new barriers for voters. The Assembly should oppose these bills in their floor session this afternoon.