Officials may send voting deputies back to Wisconsin nursing homes

Wisconsin election officials could decide next week whether to send special voting deputies back into nursing homes ahead of the April elections.

Wisconsin law allows municipal clerks to send deputies into nursing homes to help residents complete absentee ballots. The state Elections Commission banned deputies from entering the homes in March 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic was taking hold, saying such visits could jeopardize residents' health. The ban remained in place for the November election despite Republican concerns that it could enable voter fraud in nursing homes.

The Legislature's Republican-controlled administrative rules committee this month challenged the commission to show how it can legally ban the visits. It also ordered the commission to promulgate the ban as an emergency rule. The commission is scheduled to discuss the committee's orders during a meeting Tuesday.

Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe recommended that commissioners drop the ban. She wrote in a memo to them that it's clear Republicans on the rules committee believe the commission lacks the authority to ban the visits and will strike down any emergency rule extending the prohibition.

"It seems futile, and a waste of resources at all levels of the process ... to pursue the promulgation of a rule when it is clear that the rule ... will ultimately fail," Wolfe wrote.

She noted that some nursing homes have relaxed their visitor policies over the last year and said clerks should follow individual protocols of homes in their jurisdictions. She also suggested that the commission pursue statutory changes allowing for nursing home staff to act as voting deputies and allowing deputies to work with residents remotely.

The election is set for April 6. The only statewide race on the ballot is for state schools superintendent. Pecatonica Area School District Superintendent Jill Underly and former Brown Deer Superintendent Deborah Kerr are vying to replace outgoing state Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor.

The number of COVID-19 infections in the state remained relatively flat Friday after several weeks of declining numbers. State health officials reported that the daily average number of new cases during the seven-day period that ended Friday was 615. They added five more deaths to the state's pandemic total, pushing it to 6,399.

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