Testimony of CCWI Executive Director Jay Heck:
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 two of the measures being considered by this Assembly Committee today and urge members of this committee to vote against their passage.
Assembly Bill 173: This bill would regulate private grants for election administration and prohibit certain people from being poll workers. Specifically, the bill would
- Prohibit municipalities or counties from receiving private grants for election administration but allow the Wisconsin Election Commission to accept them. The Commission would be required to distribute grants only as approved by the Joint Committee on Finance with additional stipulations.
- Prohibit employees of the following from working as poll workers:
- a candidate committee, legislative campaign committee, political action committee, independent expenditure committee, political party, recall committee, and referendum committee.
- a political organization required to register with the federal elections commission.
- an issue advocacy group
This legislation is aimed specifically at the so-called Facebook grants that were made nationwide last year by the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) to assist during the pandemic to provide much-needed funding for protection equipment and to help hire much-needed poll workers so that the November 2020 election could be conducted in a safe and sane manner. 221 counties, cities, towns and villages in every part of Wisconsin received welcome assistance to help conduct their elections – not just the five largest cities in Wisconsin that some would have you believe were the only recipients of this funding. The budgets of municipalities both large and small were strained to the maximum by the demands posed by COVID-19 and CTCL funding helped to alleviate that shortage and provide much needed assistance.
Lawsuits to block CTCL funding to Wisconsin were rejected last October by a U.S. District Judge, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago and by the U.S. Supreme Court, specifically by conservative Justice and Trump appointment Brett Kavanaugh. The Wisconsin Supreme Court also rejected a lawsuit to block CTLC funding.
This legislation is based on a false premise that has already been adjudicated and rejected in the courts and should not be resurrected simply to “get back” at Facebook for making completely non-partisan and welcome resources available to assist in conducting elections throughout Wisconsin and the country during a time of national crisis.
This bill would also prohibit anyone who is an employee of a political organization or issue advocacy group from being a poll worker. This would reduce the current poll worker pool in communities across the state. Any employee of any political party or any employee of an advocacy organization like Common Cause WI, the NAACP, Right Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Conservation Voters, Tavern League of Wisconsin, the League of Women Voters, Disability Rights Wisconsin, AARP, etc. would not be able to serve as poll workers. We need more citizens participating and working as poll workers in our elections, not fewer. There is no evidence that poll workers who may have an association with a political or advocacy organization act improperly when carrying out their duties and there are already laws in place prohibiting electioneering at a polling location.
Assembly Bill 198: This measure, as introduced on March 25, 2021, makes changes to absentee ballot rules. Specifically, the bill would:
Prohibit a municipal clerk from correcting a defect on the completed absentee ballot certificate envelope. For example: a witness for your absentee ballot forgets to complete their address. Currently, the clerk may look up the address or contact the voter for information and fill it in. Under this measure, 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 the MyVote website.
While there may be some benefit in having a uniform policy about how to “cure” defects in absentee ballots such as the lack of a witness address on an envelope, this most certainly is not a remedy. This measure would effectively disenfranchise thousands of voters through no fault of their own other than failing to ensure that the witness on their absentee ballot filled out their address. There is no evidence that the fact that clerks filled out addresses on some absentee ballot envelopes in anyway caused those absentee ballots to be fraudulent or invalid. The intent of this measure is to invalidate many absentee ballots and to discourage the utilization of absentee ballots to gain a perceived partisan advantage. This is voter suppression at its worst.