Georgia-style voting restrictions won't happen in Wisconsin. Here's why
MADISON - The tighter voting rules sweeping some states won’t happen in Wisconsin.
The reason: divided government.
Georgia Republicans this year drew cheers from their base and castigation from voting rights advocates, some businesses and Major League Baseball when they approved new voting laws this year. Similar dynamics are building in Texas and Florida, where Republicans control all of state government.
In Wisconsin, the situation is different. Republicans who control the Legislature are seeking to limit ballot drop boxes, restrict who can return absentee ballots for others and tighten rules for when elderly and disabled voters can automatically receive absentee ballots.
But Democratic Gov. Tony Evers plans to veto those measures if they get to him.
That means the state’s voting laws are all but certain to remain unchanged for 2022, when Evers is up for re-election.
Wisconsin politicians have been fighting over voting rules for decades, but their disputes escalated last year when the coronavirus pandemic transformed voting habits.
Wisconsinites turned to absentee voting in unprecedented numbers and large groups of voters designated themselves as indefinitely confined because of age or disability, allowing them to automatically receive absentee ballots.
Election clerks placed ballot drop boxes around their cities, and Madison officials created “Democracy in the Park” events that allowed voters to return absentee ballots at more than 200 locations weeks before the presidential election.
Joe Biden narrowly defeated then-President Donald Trump in the state, leading to recounts and a string of litigation. Federal courts and the state Supreme Court threw out those challenges and upheld Biden’s win.
The inevitability of vetoes isn't deterring Republican lawmakers. On Wednesday, the Senate Elections Committee held a hearing on several bills:
Senate Bill 203 would limit who could return absentee ballots for others. The measure is meant to prevent what Republicans disparage as ballot harvesting — having political groups collect many absentee ballots to return them to election officials.
Large-scale ballot collection didn’t happen in Wisconsin last year, but a Republican ballot-collection scheme in North Carolina in 2018 led to the invalidation of a congressional election and criminal charges.
Another provision of the bill would prevent activities like “Democracy in the Park.”
Senate Bill 206 would change the law that allows voters to have absentee ballots automatically sent to them by labeling themselves as indefinitely confined because of age or disability. Confined voters do not have to provide copies of their IDs to get absentee ballots, as other voters must.
Under the bill, thousands of people who designated themselves as confined last year would no longer have that status and would have to file new paperwork to automatically receive ballots.
Those under 65 would face more requirements to qualify as confined and anyone who falsely claimed the status could be charged with a crime.
Senate Bill 209 would allow each community to have one ballot drop box, which would have to be attached to the building where the municipal clerk’s office is located.
Current law doesn’t mention drop boxes, and some have questioned whether they’re legal. Republicans say the bill would ensure drop boxes can be used, while opponents say it would make them less accessible.
Fixing ballot errors
Senate Bill 212 would bar election officials from filling in the witness addresses on absentee ballot envelopes.
The bipartisan state Elections Commission for more than four years has told clerks they could fill in that information if they have reliable information about the address of a witness. State law doesn’t allow absentee ballots to be counted if they are missing witness addresses.
The bill would require absentee ballots with missing information to be returned to voters for them to correct. That would likely result in some ballots not getting cast, especially if they were sent to clerks close to Election Day.
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.