Wisconsin Legislators Send Mixed Bag of Election Bills To Governor

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Yesterday, Wisconsin legislators passed a series of election bills and two constitutional amendments that will be put on the ballot next year. 

Of the bills headed to Gov. Tony Evers (D), four have bipartisan support and are likely to be signed into law, barring any “poison-pill additions,” as Evers described it.  

Most critically, Assembly Bill 567 would allow election clerks to begin processing absentee ballots on the Monday before Election Day. Earlier this year, the governor had proposed early ballot processing in his budget proposal, but that plan was nixed by Republicans. The bill would not allow clerks to begin counting absentee ballots before Election Day; instead, they would be permitted to remove ballots from their outer envelopes and verify voters’ eligibility.

This move is intended to alleviate some of the tensions after polls close on Election Day as absentee ballots are slowly tallied, causing the vote count to fluctuate before the counting is complete. These normal and anticipated jumps caused by the reporting of absentee ballots were exploited by former President Donald Trump in his efforts to sow doubt over 2020 election results in the battleground state. 

The other bipartisan bills likely to be signed into law include legislation that would allow absentee voters to opt-in to text notifications regarding the status of their absentee ballot, limit last-minute polling location changes and closures and implement a variety of safeguards for election clerks and officials, including protecting personal information and whistleblower protection. 

Among the bills likely to be vetoed by Evers is Assembly Bill 396, which would cap the voter file access fee at $250. The Republican-backed bill is most notably sponsored by Reps. Janel Brandtjen, Gae Magnafici, Dave Murphy, Chuck Wichgers and state Sen. Dan Knodl, all of whom signed a letter asking former Vice President Mike Pence to delay the certification of the 2020 election results on Jan. 6, 2021. 

While this bill poses as merely administrative, there are ulterior motives to the fee cap. Currently, Wisconsin has one of the most expensive voter file fees in the country. It costs over $12,000 to purchase the entire voter record, which contains a registered voter’s name and address, which electoral districts they live in, the previous elections they’ve voted in and whether they voted in-person or via absentee ballot as well as contact information. 

Although anyone can purchase the file and there are no restrictions on how the data is used, the high price has historically meant that the voter file and its sensitive information is only purchased by political campaigns and parties. 

But, as one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Amy Binsfield (R), explained, “This bill is set to level the field for those who would like to see transparency in our voter information. We want to take away barriers that don’t have a solid purpose.” It is a part of the growing trend of massive voter challenges and coordinated election vigilantism coming from the right. 

Luckily it is unlikely that the fee cap will be signed into law. Evers vowed he “will veto any bill that enables politicians to interfere with our elections or makes it harder for eligible Wisconsinites to cast their ballot.”

The Assembly also passed two constitutional amendments — rooted in post-2020 election conspiracies — that will be put before voters next year for ratification. On the April primary election ballot, voters will determine whether local governments should be prohibited from accepting private grants to better administer elections. On the November general election ballot, voters will determine whether it is necessary to further clarify that only U.S. citizens are permitted to vote in elections at every level. 

The first proposal stems from the unfounded theory that private funding, particularly in 2020, including $350 million from Mark Zuckerberg, provided an advantage to Democrats. The second is another Republican-driven trend as some municipalities across the country move to allow certain, qualifying noncitizens to vote in local elections; the proposal is also redundant as state statute already prohibits this and federal law prohibits noncitizens from voting in federal elections.  

Evers is unable to veto constitutional amendments, leaving them up to the voters next year. 

Read the bipartisan bills A.B. 567 here, A.B. 38 here, A.B. 298 here and A.B. 577 here.