Clerks could no longer fill in missing information on absentee ballot envelopes, private money couldn’t cover public election costs and the Legislature would have more oversight over advice from the Elections Commission under legislation the Senate approved today.
The dozen bills that cleared the floor — all with only GOP support — would address a host of grievances that Republicans have raised about the 2020 election. They’re also largely expected to be vetoed by Dem Gov. Tony Evers, who has vowed to oppose efforts that he believes would make voting harder.
The Senate also approved a constitutional amendment that Evers couldn’t stop.
SJR 101 would prohibit the use of private resources to pay for the administration of an election. The amendment and a bill with a similar ban that cleared the Senate today were born out of the grants from a group funded largely by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. While the money went to some 200 communities, five largely Dem cities received the bulk of the grants.
The amendment, approved 21-11, would have to pass both houses of the Legislature in back-to-back sessions before it could head to the voters for a referendum. The version the Senate approved tweaked language in what the Assembly signed off on, and the proposal now goes back to the other house.
Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, said some of the proposals the Senate took up were sparked by a Legislative Audit Bureau report that found no widespread fraud in the 2020 election, but noted a series of administrative issues. He said it was a shame that the guv is likely to veto efforts to shore up election administration.
“Isn’t it a shame that we can’t just sit down with the governor and make our elections a little bit better?” said Cowles, co-chair of the Joint Audit Committee. “We’re not talking about 2020. That’s over and Biden won. We’re talking about the future. These are common-sense Audit Bureau recommendations.”
But Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, countered the dozen bills before the chamber were part of a bigger puzzle. When all the pieces are put together, he argued, it added up to an effort to make it harder for Wisconsinites to register and vote.
“Where did this stuff come from? It came from a toxic cloud of doubt that was created by a stampede of misinformation, put out there by folks with nefarious intentions trying to question the legitimacy of our democracy,” Larson said.
The election bills approved today include:
*SB 214, which would allow municipalities with central count locations to begin processing absentee ballots at 7 a.m. the day before an election. While communities could begin processing the ballots, they couldn’t begin tallying totals until after the polls close on election day. They also could go as late as 10 p.m. the day before the election and would have to reconvene at 7 a.m., which is when the polls open.
Dems objected to a provision included in the bill that would allow municipalities of less than 35,000 people to share polling places with an adjacent municipality. It passed 20-13 with Sen. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, joining Dems in opposition.
Former President Donald Trump falsely claimed there was a vote “dump” in communities such as Milwaukee as central count locations finished their tallies well into the early morning of the day after the 2020 election.
Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said it’s unlikely the bill will see the floor in that chamber. He noted it’s late in the session and the Assembly hasn’t had a hearing on the bill.
*SB 934, which would require a series of changes that largely stem from the Legislative Audit Bureau’s review of the 2020 election. For example, the bill would add more training requirements for municipal clerks and require the Elections Commission to promulgate rules for training municipal clerks on testing voting machines. The audit found many clerks failed to conduct required tests of voting machines not more than 10 days before an election with some doing it well before that. The bill also would require the Elections Commission to remove default birthdates or registration dates from the voter rolls and replace them with actual dates. When the state first created a central voter list, default dates were used for smaller communities that hadn’t previously kept a voter registration list. The default dates have led to false claims about the state’s voter list. It passed 21-12.
*SB 935, which would ban the use of private resources for election administration and prohibit clerks from curing missing or incorrect information on absentee ballot envelopes. The bill also would clarify in state law what voters and witnesses must include when filling in their information on absentee ballot envelopes. Trump sought to challenge 5,517 ballots in Dane and Milwaukee counties where clerks filled in missing or incorrect information on absentee ballot envelopes. The Legislative Audit Bureau found that state law doesn’t specify what information needs to be listed on an absentee ballot envelope to comply with the requirement that voters and witnesses include the information. The bill also would overhaul the process for special voting deputies helping residents of an assisted care facility vote. It was approved 19-14 with Sens. Julian Bradley, R-Franklin, and Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, joining Dems in opposition.
*SB 936, which would require the Elections Commission to resolve a complaint over election issues within 60 days unless a majority of the commissioners vote to extend the deadline and put a schedule in state law on when the agency would have to update voter rolls. It was approved 21-12.
*SB 937, which would revamp the indefinitely confined voter statute, which allows those confined due to age, illness or infirmary to receive an absentee ballot automatically for every election without providing proof of identification to cast their votes. The bill would change who’s eligible to claim the status to those who are indefinitely confined and can’t travel independently without significant burden. It also would drop age as a criterion for eligibility and make changes to the process to apply for the status. Trump sought unsuccessfully to challenge 28,395 ballots cast by indefinitely confined voters in heavily Dem Dane and Milwaukee counties as he unsuccessfully sought to overturn the 2020 election results in Wisconsin. It was approved 18-15 with Nass, Bradley and Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, joining Dems in voting against the bill.
*SB 938, which would require the Elections Commission to verify that those who register to vote are U.S. citizens. The bill also would require the Department of Transportation to stamp “Not valid for voting purposes” on any license or ID card issued to a non-citizen. The bill cleared 21-12.
*SB 939, which would require applications for absentee ballots to be separate from the envelope voters place them in to return to their clerks. Trump sought unsuccessfully to challenge more than 170,000 absentee ballots cast early, in-person in Dane and Milwaukee counties because the envelope doubles as the written request. The bill also would ban ballot harvesting. The bill was approved 19-14 with GOP Sens. Kathy Bernier, of Chippewa Falls, and Rob Cowles, of Green Bay, joining Dems in opposition.
*SB 940, which would require the Elections Commission to compare a voter’s personally identifiable information against DOT records within 10 days after registration. According to the Elections Commission, there were 101,000 more registrations at the end of October 2020 than there were at the beginning of the month. It was approved 21-12.
*SB 941, which GOP leaders say would allow the Legislature to block the state from following federal election guidance. It passed 21-12.
*SB 942, which would allow the Elections Commission and departments of Corrections, Transportation and Health Services to be sanctioned if they fail to follow election laws. Under the bill, the four would have to submit annual reports to JFC and the DOA secretary describing their failures to follow certain election-related laws. The DOA secretary would then have to ask JFC to consider taking away position authority from the agencies or lapse money from their appropriations. The lapse could be up to $50,000 for each day of noncompliance. It passed 19-14 with Bernier and fellow GOP Sen. Joan Ballweg, of Markesan, opposed.
*SB 943, which would require the Elections Commission to submit to the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules each week all documents and communications issued to municipal clerks that generally qualify as guidance documents. If the committee determines the document or communication qualifies as a rule under current law, the commission would have to withdraw the guidance. It passed 21-12.
*SB 945, which would require circuit court clerks to notify county clerks and the Elections Commission if prospective jurors indicate on a questionnaire that they are not U.S. citizens or don’t live within the circuit. The commission would then need to check those names against the voter registration list and remove those who aren’t eligible. It passed 21-12.
*SB 946, which would provide whistleblower protection to municipal clerks who witness
and report election fraud or irregularities. It passed 20-13 with Nass joining Dems in opposition.
Nass said he opposed the bill to overhaul the indefinitely confined status because it didn’t require a medical professional to confirm that someone needs the designation. He opposed the bill that included a provision on special voting deputies because lead author Bernier worked with Elections Commission Administration Meagan Wolfe and agency staff on the bill.
The commission’s vote to suspend a requirement that clerks send special voting deputies to assisted care facilities twice before sending residents absentee ballots drew outrage from Republicans. The Racine County sheriff recommended felony charges against five of the commissioners for their votes to suspend the requirement, a move that was made as nursing homes weren’t allowing special voting deputies into their facilities due to COVID-19.
“I don’t trust Meagan Wolfe, period, and the WEC staff,” Nass said.