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Republicans circulating bills with new absentee voting restrictions

File photo/WKOW
Early voting at one of the three UW-Madison polling places.

MADSION (WKOW) -- GOP lawmakers on Monday were circulating a half-dozen proposals that would place new restrictions on how people are able to vote in Wisconsin. Most of the proposed bills put new rules in place for how voters obtain and submit absentee ballots.

The measures would require voters to provide proof of ID every time they seek to vote absentee, force people seeking 'indefinite confinement' status to show proof from a medical professional every two years, limit where voters can get an absentee ballot, and provide additional paperwork for those seeking to vote early in-person.

Each of the measures listed Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Cedarburg) as a lead sponsor. The bills, obtained Monday by 27 News, were sent to all lawmakers, asking them to respond by March 1 if they wanted to be listed as a co-sponsor.

“These bills are about restoring confidence in our elections," Stroebel said in a statement Monday. "We must ensure uniformity of process and transparency of conduct so all voters, regardless of political belief, trust the final outcome.” 

In early January, Republican lawmakers signaled election reform bills would be a priority of theirs this session. The bills placing new restrictions, should they pass both GOP-controlled chambers, would likely be vetoed by Democratic Governor Tony Evers.

Democratic lawmakers began sharing news of the circulating bills on social media Monday afternoon.

One bill would end the practice of indefinitely confined and overseas voters automatically receiving an absentee ballot for each election. While that would remain the case for military personnel, indefinitely confined voters could only sign up to have an absentee ballot application sent to them for each election.

The measure would also ban county and municipal clerks, elections commissioners, or members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission from sending out unsolicited applications for absentee ballots.

Voters under the bill would also have to provide photo ID each time they apply for an absentee ballot; currently, once a voter provides proof of ID to obtain an absentee ballot, they don't need to show proof again for future ballots unless they change their name or address.

A report from the Wisconsin Elections Commission found that 80 percent of the more than 216,000 absentee voters who claimed "indefinitely confined" status for the November 2020 election had provided photo ID as recently as 2016.

The number of voters claiming "indefinitely confined" status grew markedly across the state, with no clear pattern that status was favored by voters in either urban or rural areas.

One of the bills would place new qualifications for voters seeking to claim they were indefinitely confined. Specifically, it would require such voters to provide proof from a medical professional if they're younger than 65 years old.

It would state the existence of a pandemic is not reason enough for anyone to seek "indefinitely confined" status. Voters who are deemed indefinitely confined would have to re-apply every two years. Lastly, the state would automatically remove that status from any voter who received it during the pandemic, between the dates of March 12, 2020 and November 6, 2020.

Clerks would also be required under law to update hourly how many absentee ballots they've issued, how many have been returned, how many ballots have been counted, and how many are remaining to be counted.

The legislative package also included new restrictions for people voting early in-person. Currently, such voters fill out an application which is affixed to the envelope in which their certified ballot is placed. The bill would require the Elections Commission to develop a new statewide absentee ballot application that early in-person voters would fill out prior to receiving a ballot.

Another bill would allow municipalities to continue having alternative sites where people could drop off completed absentee ballots, aside from the clerk's office. However, those alternate locations would only be allowed to operated in the 14-day window prior to the election during in which voters can vote early in-person, limiting the window for events like Madison's "Democracy in the Park."

One of the measures would ban cities and counties from accepting grants of money or materials for the purpose of running an election. If the state Elections Commission accepted such a donation, that money would need to be divided among each municipality in Wisconsin, adjusting for population.

Another bill would create new rules regarding voting at nursing homes. It would require the homes to notify residents' families of the date and time at which special voting deputies would be visiting the facilities to help residents vote.

It stipulates if an employee of the home influences a resident to apply or not apply for an absentee ballot, or influences the resident's decision on for whom they vote, the employee would be charged with a Class I felony, which in punishable by up to three-and-a-half years in prison.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated one of the bills would prohibit alternate ballot drop-off sites from helping people register to vote to request an absentee ballot.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Capitol Bureau Chief

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