A Republican state lawmaker is floating sweeping overhauls to how the state conducts elections. But, even before they’ve been officially introduced, the bills are already facing pushback.
The six bills, proposed by Republican Senator Duey Stroebel of Saukville, would change requirements for indefinitely confined voters, institute stricter voter ID laws and bar election funding from private organizations — among a variety of other things.
The bills are currently circulating for co-sponsors and haven’t been formally introduced onto the floor. Despite that, they’ve already faced pushback from a number of Democrats and even Republican State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.
In a press conference earlier today, Vos said that Stroebel had not sought outside opinions before circulating the bills.
“We were not consulted on the bills Sen. Stroebel put out,” Vos told reporters. “I certainly believe some of them have good ideas and some of them have problems. But we’re going to go through a very thorough vetting process and we’re going to have a discussion about what’s appropriate and what’s not.”
Vos did voice support for Stroebel’s proposed changes to indefinitely confined voting laws.
Said Vos: “The very idea that somebody who is out living their normal life, acting as if they are not indefinitely confined, and using that as a way to circumvent the photo ID law should be something we all should be concerned about.”
A number of the proposed changes are in response to the November 2020 election.
The new restrictions on indefinitely confined voters – who do not need to show voter identification to vote – come after hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters used the provision to vote in the presidential election.
Under Stroebel’s proposed changes, voters under 65 would be required to provide a doctor’s note proving their indefinitely confined status. Voters would also be barred from using the pandemic as a reason to register as indefinitely confined.
Rep. Mark Spreitzer, a Democrat from Beloit, says that altering indefinitely confined requirements is voter suppression. Spreitzer, who already voiced his opposition to the bills, is the ranking Democrat on the nine-member Assembly Election Committee.
“Indefinitely confined is a status that many people use when we’re not in a pandemic,” Spreitzer told WORT. “Because they actually aren’t able to easily leave their house and go vote in person and so they get a ballot mailed to them using that status. This bill would place a number of additional hoops they have to jump through.”
A separate proposal would block election administration funding from private organizations.
That comes after conservative-led lawsuits over a private grant provided to five Wisconsin cities last year. Madison received about $1.3 million in grant funding from the Center for Tech and Civil Life, an independent organization with financial backing from Google and Facebook.
Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said in October that the grant money went to a variety of election costs incurred by the pandemic.
“That grant has gone to cover costs like the dropboxes and the additional cost for printing and mailing absentee ballots,” Mayor Rhodes-Conway said last year. “We’re offering pandemic pay for poll workers and we’re offering to pay for cleaning for polling sites. There’s a whole list of things that are being covered by this grant.”
Meanwhile, the Mayor criticized Stroebel’s bills in a press release today, saying the bills circulating in the legislature would make it harder to vote absentee.
Another proposal would effectively bar events such as Madison’s ‘Democracy in the Park’ program last fall, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That program was also challenged in court, with the case ultimately being tossed out last fall.
And no package of Republican-authored election bills would be complete without the perennial call for tighter voter ID laws. Per that proposal, the state would overhaul its voter ID laws for absentee voters — another item that was challenged by the Trump campaign in court after the 2020 election.
Jim Gardner is a professor of law at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and an expert in election administration. He says Stroebel’s proposals are just the latest in a long line of efforts by Republican lawmakers to suppress votes and, by extension, swing elections in their favor.
“It’s voter suppression,” he says. “There is no need for election security. Elections are secure. That leaves only one possibility — and that possibility is vote suppression. Sadly the Republican party seems to have narrowed its policy commitments to one item, which is the suppression of voting by Democrats. And it’s nationwide.”
David Canon is a political scientist at UW-Madison, and he echoes many of Gardner’s concerns.
“In my view, it’s clearly voter suppression…Our elections are very secure. The number of cases of voter fraud are so infinitesimally small that it’s just not something that changes the outcome of elections,” Canon says.
He adds that Wisconsin isn’t alone in the debate over voter suppression. In the wake of the 2020 election, state lawmakers across the country are attempting to force through tighter voting policies.
“This is not just Wisconsin, this is happening across the country right now. Because of the reaction to the increase we saw in mail-in voting in the 2020 elections, we’re now seeing efforts aimed at restricting that.”
According to a report released this month from the Brennan Center for Justice, 33 other states have introduced or considered 165 bills that restrict voting this year. In 2020, only 15 states considered just 35 bills.
The Wisconsin bills are currently circulating for co-sponsors and haven’t been formally introduced. According to Rep. Spreitzer, the deadline for co-sponsorship is March 1st at 5:00 PM — at which point they’ll be referred to various committees and then on to a public hearing process.