Here’s the series of changes lawmakers want to make to our elections
MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Clerks would be able to process absentee ballots before an election to avoid late-night tallies, and losing candidates would be unable to register as a write-in during a general election under a pair of GOP bills recently introduced.
In addition, Wisconsin's voter ID law would be preserved in the state constitution under another Republican election-related proposal. And a pair of GOP lawmakers are also seeking to remove the state from a nonpartisan national organization known for catching voter fraud.
Processing Absentee Ballots
For years, clerks have asked lawmakers to change the law to allow them to count absentee ballots before 7 a.m. on Election Day.
Under the "Monday processing bill" introduced by three Republican lawmakers, clerks would only be allowed to do certain tasks, such as check for any missing information on an absentee ballot envelope and take the ballot out of the envelope to eventually feed it through a voting machine on Election Day.
The proposal has received support from Milwaukee election officials and Mayor Cavalier Johnson, who believe it could make a big difference in the amount of time it takes to report election results.
“I think it would take a tremendous amount of pressure off our election workers, and specifically in larger communities like Milwaukee and Madison,” Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson said.
Election results are often reported hours after polls close at 8 p.m., or into the early morning in Milwaukee, because officials count them all at once at a central location.
Rep. Ron Tusler (R-Harrison), who co-authored the bill, said the measure is geared towards speeding up the process, specifically in Milwaukee, and avoiding late-night shifts in election results.
He referenced in a co-sponsorship memo the 2018 matchup between then-Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Evers and the 2020 presidential election, where tallies in the city flipped the results to Democratic candidates.
Former President Donald Trump falsely claimed he lost to Joe Biden three years ago because of “ballot dumps in Milwaukee.”
Rep. Patrick Snyder (R-Schofield) hopes the bill is signed into law to ease suspicions from some voters who believe the results are skewed.
"The number of ballots sent out matched the ones coming in, but the perception looked like something wasn't right," Snyder said. "So, if there's an ability of a central count to begin processing the day before the election… I think we could have election results by 10 p.m. or midnight across the entire state.”
A bipartisan bill to allow absentee ballots to be counted before an election failed to pass the Senate last year. It did receive support from Gov. Tony Evers who had hoped it would prevent conspiracies fueled by Trump.
Write-in Candidate Restrictions
Candidates who lost in a partisan primary would be prohibited from running as a write-in candidate during the general under bill proposed by Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) and Rep. John Macco (R-Ledgeview).
In Wisconsin, a candidate must register as an official write-in candidate for votes to be counted on their behalf. The bill would maintain that practice, but only allow registration if the candidate didn’t first run in a partisan primary.
States including Illinois, Texas, Arkansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Arizona, and Ohio all have similar bans in place.
"Elections should be orderly, efficient, equitable, and simple," the bill authors wrote in a memo seeking co-sponsorship. "Leaving the door open for unnecessary confusion risks compromising the integrity of our elections and the confidence of the electorate."
The most notable instance of this occurring was in a race for the 63rd Assembly District, a seat currently held by longtime Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester). Adam Steen, Vos' primary opponent, narrowly lost by fewer than 300 votes in August of 2022.
During the general election, Vos won by a much larger margin to defeat Steen, who ran on a platform of decertifying the 2020 election and was endorsed by Trump.
Enshrining Voter ID Law
In an effort to preserve the state's voter ID law, Republicans proposed a constitutional amendment.
The amendment wouldn't change the current law that requires voters to present a valid ID before casting a ballot or remove the policy that allows individuals without an ID to cast a provisional ballot, but lawmakers could add exceptions to the requirement if they want.
The proposal was introduced as progressives have suggested overturning the law since securing a liberal majority on the state Supreme Court. Evers has also proposed easing voting ID laws in his state budgets.
A constitutional amendment needs to pass two consecutive sessions before voters can weigh in. Since Evers has been in office, Republicans have proposed a series of constitutional amendments as a workaround to Evers' veto pen since they don't need his approval.
"That's the reason I brought it up," Synder said. "That this governor, if it does pass, would veto it, and I thought, let's leave it up to the people."
Eliminating ERIC Voting System
Sen. Duey Strobel (R-Cedarburg) and Rep. Ty Bodden (R-Hilbert) are seeking to remove Wisconsin from a nonpartisan national organization that works to reduce voter fraud.
The Electronic Registration Information Center, known as ERIC, is designed to "help states improve the accuracy of America's voter rolls, increase access to voter registration for all eligible citizens, reduce election costs, and increase efficiencies in elections," according to the organization's website.
Strobel and Bodden said in a memo to lawmakers they want to withdraw the state because it "has led many to question whether ERIC’s architects placed more of a priority on registering voters as opposed to ensuring the accuracy of voter registration lists."
The organization has been the target of attacks by Republicans and Trump after his defeat to Biden in 2020. Since then, Trump has called on states to remove their affiliation with the group.
Since its creation, ERIC has identified nearly 40 million voters who have either moved to another state, passed away or are registered in multiple states by using their system to track voter rolls.
Evers is almost certain to veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.
Absentee Ballot Verification System
With absentee voting growing in popularity since the pandemic, lawmakers also proposed legislation to create a text message verification system to alert voters when their ballot was received by their municipal clerk.
The opt-in text message system would coordinate with the state's MyVote website that already allows voters to check the status of their absentee ballot.
The proposal has broad bipartisan support.
"We often hear from people their anxiety about wanting to make sure their ballot request gets there on time, and most importantly their vote counts, so we support this bill," Barbara Beckert, director of advocacy, Disability Rights Wisconsin, said.
Ranked Choice Voting
A bipartisan group of lawmakers are making another push for ranked-choice voting in Wisconsin.
RCV, also known as instant runoff voting, allows voters to rank their preferred candidate on the ballot.
The bill would apply to federal elections, U.S. House and Senate, and advance the top five candidates from the primary to the general. Then, in the general, tallies are calculated until a candidate wins a majority of the votes.
Supporters believe the bill would encourage more people to run for office, while opponents say it could lead to lower voter turnout and delayed results.