Pleas by advocates for elderly and disabled ignored as Assembly passes voter restrictions

By: - June 23, 2021 6:45 am
Two absentee ballots in the mail sticking out of the front of a mail box on a pole

Photo by Jim Small | Arizona Mirror

As the Assembly began its floor session Tuesday, with a number of controversial election bills on the agenda, a flurry of urgent press releases collected by the Capitol’s inside news source The Wheeler Report told the story. 

There were press releases from a wide array of groups objecting to the election bills that make it far more difficult for people with disabilities and other indefinitely confined people to vote.

Disability rights banner (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Disability rights banner (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The organizations — which have been tirelessly advocating for their members from press conferences to releasing studies to testimony at numerous committee hearings — made their closing arguments to legislators, despite every sign that Republicans would vote for the bills, Democrats would vote against them, the Republicans would prevail and then Gov. Tony Evers would veto them. 

All but the last step came to pass Tuesday as the Assembly voted on bills already passed in the Senate that will now head to Evers’ desk. He has all but said he will veto them, as he vowed not to sign any bills that would make it more difficult to vote.

There are more than 20 election bills total. Controversial voting measures on the Assembly calendar that passed Tuesday were:

  • SB 205 which requires a nursing home or group home administrator to give notice of date and time of voting deputies visits to relatives of residents who plan to vote. Any employee of the facility can be charged with a felony if they influence residents, not only by telling them who to vote for, but by giving them information on whether or not to apply for an absentee ballot or for encouraging them to vote.
  • SB 212 which creates new crimes for election officials, including the correction a minor defect on an absentee ballot envelope.
  • SB204 which forbids automatically sending absentee ballots to indefinitely confined voters. It requires them reapply each election and produce a photo ID. The bill also requires anyone who claimed to be indefinitely confined in 2020 to apply again. And it requires voters to fill out more paperwork for an absentee ballot and to separately certify that they filled out the ballot. Voters would also be required to provide a photo ID every time they request a ballot online. Finally, the bill bars any group — including the Wisconsin Elections Commission — from sending out absentee ballot applications en masse. Instead they can only be sent after a potential voter requests one.
  • SB292 which requires clerks to retain a copy of any livestream of vote canvassing video for 22 months.
  • SB 210 lays out how close observers can be during canvassing, and would penalize a clerk who intentionally obstructs an observer’s view with up to six months in jail and $1,000 fine.

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Below are are the arguments the disability rights groups forwarded before the vote on the above bills:

  • The Arc Wisconsin: “Ensuring voting independence, accuracy, and access are key issues for The Arc Wisconsin. Voters with disabilities already deal with barriers in getting to the polls or to access a photo ID including coordinating transportation, access to broadband or computers and accessible materials. These bills set voters with disabilities back even further.”
  • Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities: “Many people with disabilities rely on absentee voting to exercise their right to vote because they face constant barriers that make it difficult to get around in their community, including to the polls.”
  • Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources: “Concerns regarding the proposed bills include making it harder to receive and return absentee ballots, conflicting restrictions on who can/must provide voting support for absentee voters in residential care facilities, and preventing clerks from correcting minor mistakes on the absentee ballot certificates.”
  • Survival Coalition of Wisconsin Disability Organizations: “Any voter who wants to vote absentee would need to apply for an absentee ballot for every election instead of requesting an absentee ballot for the year. … The bills make it a crime for nursing homes or group home staff to offer residents information about absentee voting. Staff have a duty to support residents with their right to vote.”
  • Disability Rights Wisconsin: “These bills will create new barriers that may disenfranchise many voters with disabilities, and criminalize some forms of assistance. We want to work with policy makers to protect the rights of voters with disabilities.”
  • Common Cause in Wisconsin: “All four measures are extremely partisan and were devised without any consultation or discussion with legislators from other political parties or with the wide array of non-partisan organizations who have been engaged and interested in elections and voting for many years and willing to work with legislators on how to improve elections in Wisconsin. These bills in particular put up barriers that make voting more difficult for the elderly and voters with disabilities.”
  • The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin: “…opposes multiple bills included in the upcoming State Assembly Calendar for the discriminatory impact they would have on Wisconsin voters with disabilities, older adults and voters of color.”
  • Family Voices of Wisconsin: “These bills increase barriers and add confusion to how citizens, including families and other caregivers, can vote using absentee ballots and how they return their absentee ballots. These proposals also add penalties if ballots are not returned by specified individuals adding confusion and hurdles to absentee voting.”
  • Wisconsin Independent Living Centers:  “The proposed voting bills will result in additional barriers and hurdles for people with disabilities to vote, particularly those who are rarely able to leave their homes due to their disability.” 
  • People First Wisconsin: “Many people with intellectual disabilities live in group homes and nursing homes. It’s important that staff are able to tell them when an election is coming up and ask if they want to register to vote or request an absentee ballot. How would you feel if you had a family member who lived in a nursing home or group home and they wanted to exercise their right to vote. If a family member wanted to assist them, would they also face a felony? It is a violation of the ADA. We have worked very hard as an advocacy group to teach others about their voting rights. It’s so sad that you won’t listen to the people of Wisconsin.”
  • Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired: “Individuals with vision impairments and blindness, currently face significant barriers to voting, including not having an accessible absentee ballot. These bills place even greater barriers and further disenfranchise us from the right to vote.”
Rep. Gae Magnafici

There was one other release on the election bills posted first thing Tuesday morning. It came from far-right Republican Rep. Gae Magnafici (R-Dresser) and was titled, “Instilling confidence in the Election” and announced her intention to support the bills.

She reiterated what most of her colleagues on the Republican side have been saying all along — that they are bringing forward the bills to make elections more secure.

“Liberal activist election officials in Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay and other liberal strongholds did everything in their power to put ballots in the hands of Democrats during the 2020 election,” stated Magnafici. “They skirted the law and colluded with big tech to ensure the outcome they wanted. Never again should the election be influenced by backroom dealings. We in the legislature have a duty to ensure no one can hack or steal our elections. Therefore, I am voting yes on these election integrity bills to ensure activist election officials cannot influence the election ever again.”

She — and every other Assembly Republican present on Tuesday — supported the bills. 

Rep. Mark Spreitzer | WisEye
Rep. Mark Spreitzer | WisEye March 31, 2021

Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit), the ranking Democrat on the Assembly elections committee, summed up the day’s actions before the votes and debates took place at a news conference with other Assembly Democrats.

(Photo: Alex Kent via Tennessee Lookout)
Washington D.C. Capitol riot 1/6/21 (Photo: Alex Kent via Tennessee Lookout)

“Since November 2020, Republicans have been perpetuating conspiracy theories that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, leading to armed insurrectionists storming our nation’s Capitol. Now they want to use the doubts that they themselves created as the basis for changing state election law. These Republican changes will make our elections less accurate and less secure.”

Speaker Robin Vos, at his own pre-session media huddle, said the goal of the bills is to protect the electoral process. He discussed the Arizona audit of ballots from the 2020 presidential election — he authorized a group of four GOP legislators to fly to Arizona to watch the process — saying he wants to see the results in Arizona to ascertain if the audit has implications for Wisconsin before deciding if our state should replicate it.

He added that each state has its own election laws and processes and it should stay that way. Yet Wisconsin’s bills limiting absentee voting, ballot drop-off boxes and other measures are similar to bills the GOP is pushing throughout the country.

Wisconsin already has two election investigations in process — one by the Legislative Audit Bureau and another investigation by former law enforcement agents with GOP ties whom Vos hired. He expects both investigations to be finished “some time this fall.” 

Speaker Robin Vos gives his State of the State response 1/12/21 (WisEye)
Speaker Robin Vos (WisEye)

He accused his opponents of thinking, “It’s OK to have shenanigans elections.” 

“The goal is to make sure at the end of the day, that every single person has the chance to vote, that we guarantee that the confidence in the election, which has been severely undermined by the actions of a few over the course of the last election cycle, hopefully are a thing of the past.”

Spreitzer also had a pointed rebuttal to Vos: “Wisconsin Republicans are now taking pointers from the people who are looking for bamboo fibers in the ballots in Arizona … and now there are members of the Wisconsin Assembly who want to audit our elections just like they’re doing in Arizona, based on their own lies. There’s no question that this is all part of a national movement to undermine our elections so that Republicans can continue to cling to power, with the support of only a minority of voters. And if that sounds familiar, don’t forget that these same Republicans already demonstrated this approach with their gerrymandering 10 years ago.” 

 

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Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin

Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.

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