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Senate passes set of voting restriction bills despite bipartisan opposition

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate passed four measures Wednesday that would add new restrictions to how people are allowed to vote and how local officials can run elections.

GOP Senators passed a bill requiring people who've received 'indefinitely confined' status -- meaning they cannot leave their home for health reasons -- to provide an ID during each election cycle when applying for an absentee ballot. Currently, such voters only need to provide ID once before automatically getting ballots in the mail for all future elections.

That bill passed 18-14 with Republicans Sen. Kathy Bernier (R-Lake Hallie) and Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) voting no. Bernier previously served as the Chippewa County Clerk and currently chairs the Senate's elections committee.

Bernier and Cowles also broke ranks and voted against a bill banning clerks from accepting grant money and equipment from outside groups.

GOP supporters of that measure have cited allegations by the former Green Bay city clerk that an outside consultant brought in with outside grant money was attempting to control some of the operations at the city's central count site last fall.

"Our goal is to get consistent, equal protection and uniform approaches to our election issues," said Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills). "And I think that's a very admirable and appropriate role for us."

Republicans have often cited the Green Bay allegation as justification for ongoing audits and an investigation Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) recently launched.

Critics say it's an attempt to placate those in their base who believe the 'Big Lie' that former President Donald Trump didn't really lose the 2020 election, despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud and Trump's campaign losing dozens of legal challenges in court.

A report last month from the Wisconsin Elections Commission found fewer than 50 cases of possible voter fraud were turned over to district attorneys for review.

"You take a vacation from April 15th through the rest of [2020] and then you bring up these charges of voter fraud," said Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) "Based on a President of the United States, a former president, that is a fraud and is un-American."

The bills' lead author, Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Cedarburg) maintained the legislation aimed to ease the concerns of both conservatives worried about last fall's election and the surge of confined voters, as well as progressives who argue Russian interference altered the 2016 election.

"This is a bipartisan issue, believe me," Stroebel said. "You can say for one reason or another there's skepticism but overall, there's skeptical on both sides."

On a party-line 20-12 vote, GOP senators passed a bill requiring nursing home administrators to notify residents' relatives or guardians when special voting deputies will be coming to the home to assist residents with their absentee ballots.

The bill also makes it a felony, punishable by up to 3.5 years in prison, for nursing home workers to influence whether a resident votes or for whom they cast a ballot.

Senators on a voice vote also passed a bill restricting the use of drop boxes for absentee ballots.

The bill was amended Wednesday to allow cities with more than 70,000 residents to place up to four drop boxes at the clerk's discretion. Originally, the bill allowed one drop box per municipality.

It's likely all for show; Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is all but certain to veto all of the bills once they reach his desk.

Two other bills were sent back to committee Wednesday, including one measure that drew harsh opposition from disability rights advocates from across the state. That bill would require people seeking indefinitely confined status to provide a doctor's note.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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