Almost 15 bills passed that would make it harder to vote absentee, criminalize common voting practices, and derail federal election guidance.
As the Wisconsin Legislature finishes its work for 2022, a final tally shows Republican legislators have introduced more than 40 bills largely aimed at altering how elections are run, restricting access to absentee voting, or creating new criminal penalties for common practices, according to an UpNorthNews analysis.
Following the 2020 presidential election, most Republicans quickly fell in line with former President Donald Trump as he spread lies that election fraud led to his defeat—and UpNorthNews’ analysis quantifies just how much Wisconsin lawmakers followed suit.
Most of the bills—28, to be exact—never made it out of committee, and a handful of them would have enacted identical changes to ones that did pass. Gov. Tony Evers has already vetoed four pieces of election-related legislation, and Republican lawmakers have sent another 10 to the governor’s desk, where they will also likely be vetoed.
Meanwhile, Republicans never took up eight Democratic bills that would have automatically registered eligible voters, made it easier to register, or encouraged young people to vote.
Here’s what you need to know:
- A bill that would let poll watchers and recount observers get within 3 feet of those working polls or conducting a recount. The law currently states observers must stand at least 3 feet away.
- Evers said in his veto message that allowing observers to get so close “creates a greater potential for observers to interfere with or intimidate election officials performing their duties, and a practical concern that observers could intrude upon election officials and possibly prevent them from effectively and efficiently carrying out their duties, both of which could degrade the quality of our elections.”
- A bill that would ban local governments from accepting private grant funding to help pay for election costs. Republicans have spread conspiracy theories about such grant funding influencing elections in the state’s five biggest cities, even though more than 200 municipalities received private funding in the 2020 election.
- “I object to restrictions on local governments potentially using supplemental funding for election administration. During the coronavirus pandemic, our state and local election officials performed admirably to ensure the 2020 elections in each of our communities were conducted freely, fairly, and in accordance with our election laws,” Evers wrote in his veto message.
- A bill to ban “ballot curing,” a common practice in which clerks correct minor errors—like a missing zip code—on absentee ballot envelopes to ensure the votes aren’t thrown out.
- Evers wrote: “I am vetoing this bill because I object to its prohibition on the current, long-standing practice of clerks in this state correcting minor errors and believe that this bill will almost certainly result in valid ballots never being counted.”
- A bill to require communities that livestream election night proceedings to record the stream and keep the files for 22 months. Some cities, such as Milwaukee, livestreamed their ballot counting processes on election night 2020, but most did not.
- Evers said the bill creates an “unnecessary and unequal burden for certain municipalities” because it would add new data storage costs to communities that are being transparent while not enacting a requirement for other municipalities to host a livestream.
At Evers’ Desk
The governor is likely to veto most, if not all, of another 10 bills Republicans have sent his way.
Among the largest would-be changes in the bills are new restrictions to the “indefinitely confined” voter status. Use of the status skyrocketed as the coronavirus pandemic spread in 2020, and Republicans are trying to require “indefinitely confined” voters under 65 to submit a doctor’s note proving they are confined and prohibit people from using a pandemic—that has now killed more than 12,000 people in Wisconsin—as an excuse for using the status.
Other changes include adding new paperwork to request an absentee ballot and banning voters from requesting absentee ballots for an entire calendar year as is currently allowed under state law.
Another bill would require the governor to receive approval from the Republican-controlled legislative budget-writing committee before allocating federal money to help administer elections. GOP lawmakers on an obscure yet powerful rules committee, which has repeatedly been used to block everything from restrictions on water contaminants to bans on LGBTQ conversion therapy, would also be able to stop Wisconsin election officials from following guidance from federal election officials.
Nursing home residents could feel some of the largest impacts from Republican-proposed restrictions. One bill would charge nursing home and care facility employees with felonies if they encouraged or discouraged residents from voting or tried to influence who they voted for; advocates previously spoke out against the bill, saying it would intimidate care facility employees and discourage them from helping residents vote at all.
At least 28 Republican-authored election bills did not pass.
Some of the most extreme would have “decertified” the 2020 election, dissolved the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission that Republicans themselves created less than a decade ago, and allowed local prosecutors to criminally charge residents of other counties with election fraud.
“Decertifying” the 2020 election, a fringe proposal from far-right lawmaker and conspiracy theorist Rep. Timothy Ramthun (R-Campbellsport), is not legally possible. His resolution to do so did not receive any support from fellow Republicans and was publicly rebuked by party leaders.
Republicans have seized on the Wisconsin Elections Commission, trying to paint it as a criminal organization that allows and encourages fraud. The Racine County sheriff last year said five of six members of the commission should be charged with election fraud for guidance they gave in 2020 to make it easier for nursing home residents to vote.
As such, Republican lawmakers offered proposals to dissolve the commission and another would have relocated the commission from Madison to Wausau.
The Racine County district attorney did not file charges against the Elections Commission members, saying it was not in her jurisdiction, but the bill to allow prosecutors to charge residents of other counties would have allowed her—or other prosecutors—to do so.
That bill would have allowed district attorneys to file election fraud charges against residents of other counties as long as the alleged fraud occurred in an election that was on both counties’ ballots.
Jonathon Sadowski A Racine native, Jonathon most recently reported for the Racine Journal Times. He has a degree in multimedia journalism from Columbia College Chicago and was a digital news intern for two Chicago stations, WMAQ and WLS-TV.