MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Assembly planned to send bills to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday that would limit opportunities for absentee voting, make it more difficult for the elderly and disabled to cast absentee ballots, and prohibit officials from filling in missing information on the envelopes of returned absentee ballots.
Conservatives are pushing more than a dozen election bills following former President Donald Trump’s narrow loss in battleground Wisconsin to President Joe Biden. Republican backers say the bills would address shortcomings in Wisconsin election law that were exposed during the November 2020 election. Opponents say they’re an attempt to perpetuate the lie that Trump actually won and are meant to disenfranchise voter groups that tend to back Democrats.
Wisconsin Republicans have already approved a review of the 2020 election by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau and hired retired police officers to investigate unfounded reports of widespread voter fraud. Trump’s defeat was upheld following recounts in Milwaukee and Dane counties and in numerous state and federal lawsuits.
One of the bills up for Assembly approval would require most elderly and disabled people who are indefinitely confined to show photo ID in order to vote absentee; require all absentee voters to fill out more paperwork and show their ID every time they vote absentee, rather than just the first time as is current law; and require voters who are confined to apply to get an absentee ballot every year, rather than have them sent automatically as they are now.
Wisconsin’s disabled community has been outspoken against the proposed changes, saying they would create new barriers for people who rely on voting absentee because they cannot easily get to polling stations on election days.
“These bills make it harder for voters who already face significant challenges to have their voices heard and their votes count,” said Beth Swedeen, executive director for the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities.
Another bill would prohibit local elections officials from filling out missing voter information on the absentee ballot certificate, which also serves as the envelope that voters use to return ballots.
Trump sought to disqualify about 5,500 absentee ballots in Democratic-heavy Dane and Milwaukee counties, where election clerks filled in missing address information on certification envelopes.
Clerks had been filling in missing information on the certification envelopes for a dozen elections prior to November’s, based in part on guidance from the Wisconsin Elections Commission. After Trump lost, Republicans questioned the legality of the practice since state law doesn’t specifically allow it.
Under the bill, any absentee ballot missing information would be returned to the voter to fix. Officials who fill in the missing information would be committing election fraud, which is punishable by up to a $10,000 fine and three years in prison.
A third bill would disallow ballot collection events any earlier than two weeks before an election. They also would have to be located near the local clerk’s office and staffed by workers from those offices.
That change is in response to the Democracy in the Park event held in Madison city parks last year, where volunteers collected absentee ballots before the early voting period started two weeks prior to the election.
Trump argued in a lawsuit that no ballots should be counted that were collected at the Democracy in the Park events, or where election officials added missing information. On both of those claims, the Wisconsin Supreme Court said Trump had raised the issues too late and that his claims lacked supporting evidence.
Three dissenting conservative justices said the laws need to be clarified, leading to the Republican-authored bills.
Another bill up for an Assembly vote would make it a felony for an employee of a nursing home or other care facility to coerce an occupant to apply for, or not apply for, an absentee ballot. It would also require the nursing home to provide notice to relatives when special voting deputies planned to be on hand to assist residents with casting their ballots.