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Concerns over ‘indefinitely confined’ voting law as thousands use the option due to COVID-19

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Some Republican lawmakers are concerned about the rules around indefinitely confined voters.

These voters are not required to show proof of a photo ID to vote absentee if they apply for a certification declaring them indefinitely confined whether it be due to age, physical illness, infirmity or they are disabled for an indefinite period.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) does not allow using the confined status as a way to avoid using a photo ID, instead, it's an option thousands more voters used this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"They don't have to show a photo ID but it does not exempt them from voter registration, signing their absentee certificate and having a witness on their absentee ballot," said Meagan Wolfe, Wisconsin's chief election official.

In the 2016 presidential election only about 7 percent of absentee ballots were from indefinitely confined voters but since then, there's been a big jump.

In April, more than 160,000 voters were indefinitely confined, 14 percent. For the November 2020 General Election, 215,333 absentee ballots were returned by voters who certified they were indefinitely confined, 11 percent, according to WEC.

Republican lawmakers are now debating making changes to this law because they claim, without evidence, voters may have bypassed state law requiring proof of an ID to cast a ballot.

However, if the state Legislature wants to alter the current law, it would ultimately have to be approved by Governor Tony Evers.

"Going forward, let's evaluate why this happened, why was there a substantial increase, was it related to the COVID-19 pandemic? If so, is there anything we need to do about that?" said Rick Esenberg, chief legal counsel and president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.

Democratic strategist Sachin Chheda believes the law could be further looked at but says it's an important option right now during a health crisis.

"It's perfectly reasonable to question the intent of the law but my concern is argument is being used to cast doubt to undermine the confidence in the results from the election," Chheda said.

WEC also says many voters who submitted applications as indefinitely confined this year have likely either provided their photo ID in a previous request or have provided their ID when voting in-person in previous elections.

Concerns over the law come as the GOP-led Committee on Campaigns and Elections plans to issue its first subpoenas next week to examine the election after Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) asked the committee to investigate how the election was administered.

Last week, Vos acknowledged the investigation likely wouldn't change the outcome but is still supportive of GOP efforts.

Esenberg also believes an investigation won't alter the results but it could provide clarity to voters and boost confidence in the process.

"My advice to Republicans is when there are allegations of political wrongdoings, carefully vet them," Esenberg said. "I think they should accept the results when the lawyers come to a conclusion."

Three voters in Northeastern Wisconsin also filed a federal lawsuit seeking to exclude election ballots in Dane, Milwaukee and Menominee counties over similar concerns regarding indefinitely confined voters.

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Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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