MADISON, Wis. - The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature passed a package of election and voting bills to Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday in an attempt to mollify backers of former President Donald Trump who falsely believe the 2020 election was stolen from him.
Republicans argue the fast-tracked bills are in response to deficiencies identified by a nonpartisan audit and a review by a conservative group. But the proposals go far beyond those recommendations and would change how votes are cast and elections are run in the battleground state.
That's why Evers, a Democrat facing reelection in November, has all-but promised to veto them all. Republicans don't have the votes to override his vetoes.
"Any bill that makes it more difficult to vote I will veto," Evers said Thursday. "If those bills don’t fit that category then I’ll look at them."
The Senate passed the bills on Tuesday and the Assembly sent them to Evers on what will likely be its last day in session this year.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos insisted the bills were about addressing identified problems with the 2020 election and attempting "to guarantee that people have confidence in the election and the results that happen" going forward.
"We are focused on the future," Vos said. "We are not looking backward about decertifying, or overturning, or doing anything with 2020."
All of the Republican-authored bills were introduced after President Joe Biden's narrow victory of nearly 21,000 votes in Wisconsin in 2020. Trump and his backers falsely claimed the election was stolen, even though lawsuits, recounts and multiple reviews found no evidence to back up allegations of widespread fraud.
"Republicans are still obsessing over and relitigating the 2020 general election," said Democratic Rep. Mark Spreitzer, prior to debate. "Instead of putting forward solutions ... Republicans just want to be punitive and make it harder for people to vote."
He accused Republicans of "continuing to try to placate a far-right extremist base."
Vos, who met with Trump, ordered a taxpayer-funded investigation into the election that is ongoing. Vos had wanted its recommendations in time for the Legislature to consider them before its session ends next month, but lead investigator and former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman has not finished his probe. The investigation has been mired in numerous, lawsuits challenging the legality of subpoenas Gableman filed with mayors of the state's largest and most Democratic cities.
Vos said bills enacting Gableman's recommendations may not be considered before the November election. Gableman was scheduled to testify at a legislative hearing on Tuesday where he may be releasing his final report.
The Wisconsin proposals are part of a nationwide Republican effort to reshape elections following Biden’s victory over Trump.
Wisconsin Capitol in Madison
Republicans are attempting to get around Evers' with three constitutional amendments that he can’t veto. All of the amendments would need to be approved in a statewide vote no sooner than 2023.
One amendment up for approval on Thursday would prohibit the use of private grants or donations to help run elections in the state. That addresses a Republican complaint about grant money that came to Wisconsin in 2020 from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which is funded by Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. The state’s five largest cities received $8.8 million but more than 200 communities in Wisconsin received funding as part of $350 million given out nationally.
One constitutional amendment passed by the Assembly would say only U.S. citizens can vote. The state constitution currently doesn’t allow noncitizens to vote and Republicans say they’re trying to make it clear that it can’t happen. Federal law already requires U.S. citizenship to vote in national elections.
Another amendment approved would put the state’s voter ID requirement into the constitution.
The bills passed on Thursday would:
- prohibit anyone other than the voter, an immediate family member or a legal guardian from returning an absentee ballot.
- bar election clerks from filling in any missing information on a voter’s absentee ballot envelope.
- require voters to provide a copy of a photo ID every time they request an absentee ballot. Under current law, voters only have to show an ID the first time they request an absentee ballot.
- give the Legislature control over guidance delivered to local election clerks by the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission.
- limit who can identify as indefinitely confined, a status that allows for absentee ballots for those who can't get to the polls due to age, illness or disability.
- require the state to conduct checks to ensure that registered voters are United States citizens.