Madison, Wis. ( Associated Press) — Wisconsin Republicans were set Wednesday to repeal rules that allowed local election clerks to fill in missing information on absentee ballot envelopes.The latest move in the GOP’s push to tighten voting processes in the critical swing state.
In October 2016, the Wisconsin Election Commission issued guidance to local clerks asking them to fill out missing witness information on absentee envelopes without contacting the witness or voter. The guidance was in effect during the 2020 presidential election, in which Joe Biden defeated then-President Donald Trump in Wisconsin.
Trump has since spread the false claim that Biden stole the election, in the face of multiple reviews and court rulings that found no evidence of massive fraud that would have affected the outcome.
Republican lawmakers passed a sweeping package of bills earlier this year to require the rules committee to sign off on any commission’s guidance, restricting people from receiving absentee ballots and giving local to private groups unsure. be declared limited for a period of time. Government money to help conduct elections.
Democratic Governor Tony Evers vetoed the entire package, but Republicans scored a major victory earlier this month when the conservative-controlled state Supreme Court outlawed drop boxes., The GOP has argued that the boxes are not secure and invite fraud.
Now GOP leaders have turned their eyes to the clerk’s guidance, arguing that state law doesn’t allow clerks to take such action, and that ballots don’t count if a witness doesn’t fill in the missing information. He demanded that the commission codify the guidance as an emergency rule, which would allow the Legislature’s Republican-controlled Rules Committee to eliminate it.
The commission followed and drafted the rule and the committee was scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon to block it at the request of Republican legislative leaders, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu.
Ahead of Wednesday’s vote, Democratic lawmakers said such a move would be the equivalent of suppressing voting rights ahead of the August 9 primary and the November 8 general election, which include crucial races for governor and the US Senate.
“Changing the rules in the middle of an election is unfair and dangerous,” said Sen. Kelda Royce. “Republican legislators are placing an undue burden on our local election workers[to contact witnesses]and potentially nullifying thousands of legally cast votes – all to advance the big lies and the election. set the stage for reversing consequences they don’t like.”
It is not clear how many clerks may have worked to correct the information of witnesses during the 2020 election.
The Legislative Audit Bureau reviewed nearly 15,000 absentee ballot envelopes from elections in 29 municipalities last year and found that 1,022, or about 7%, were missing parts of witness addresses. Fifteen had no witness address, eight did not have a witness’s signature and three did not have the voter’s signature.
Auditors found evidence that clerks had corrected addresses on 66 envelopes, or 0.4% of the sample. The audit cautioned against extrapolating the findings across the state, however, noting auditors reviewed ballot envelopes from nine of the 10 municipalities with the highest proportion of absentee ballots.
If the rules committee invalidates the commission’s rule, initial guidance stipulates that clerks can correct the missing information, but probably not for long. The Waukesha County Republican Party filed a lawsuit earlier this month alleging that the guidance was illegal.
Dane County Clerk Scott McDonnell said that if clerks are barred from adding missing information on their own, they will have to track down witnesses that could be cumbersome for some offices with already heavy workloads. He said clerks may decide to mail the ballot back with a request to fill in the missing information if there is enough time to do so before election day. Otherwise they may have to call or email the voter.
He said it is a “common sense system” to allow clerks to add missing information on their own. Often the witness is the voter’s spouse and the clerk can verify an address through state voter databases.
“Any fair-minded person would think it was fair,” he said.