Evers blasts GOP legislators on anti-voter bills before vetoes

Wisconsin went from ‘a laboratory of democracy’ to ‘petri dish for a Republican plan to undermine that democracy’

By: - August 10, 2021 11:24 am
Gov. Tony Evers vetoes bills making it harder to vote on Aug. 10 | Evers' YouTube

Gov. Tony Evers vetoes bills making it harder to vote on Aug. 10 | Evers’ YouTube

Tuesday, Gov. Tony Evers took to the rotunda of the state Capitol to publicly sign his vetoes on six election bills  passed by the Legislature’s Republican majority to make it more difficult to vote.

 The bills are a reminder of “how precious our democracy is and how quickly it can be taken away,” Evers said. “That’s why we will continue working to protect the right of every eligible voter to cast their ballot, and to make sure it is easy and accessible for them to do that. And that includes using my veto pen to veto these bills before me today.”

Gov. Tony Evers vetoes bills making it harder to vote on Aug. 10 | Evers' YouTube

He put his objections to the bills in the context of the national push Republican leaders have instigated to overturn the results of a fair, secure and free presidential election that put President Joe Biden in the White House, accusing the Republicans of being “sore losers” and trying to stack the deck for the next election because they lost in 2020.

“In many ways, Wisconsin has been at the forefront of the National Republican efforts to override the will of the people,” Evers told the assembled crowd. “And now, politicians and states across the country are abusing their power to try and overturn the election [and] trying to stack the deck, so that they get the results they want next time. They’re trying to make it harder for every eligible person to cast a ballot.”

He continued: “Wisconsin has long been a laboratory of democracy. But in recent years, we are used as a petri dish for a Republican plan to undermine that democracy. Well, not anymore. Not today. Not as long as I’m governor of the great state of Wisconsin.”

Gov. Tony Evers vetoes bills making it harder to vote on Aug. 10 | Evers' YouTube
Gov. Tony Evers vetoes bills making it harder to vote | Evers’ YouTube

Shortly after the ceremony, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos responded with a statement: “The governor is making another momentous mistake with his veto pen. While he claims these bills are ‘anti-democracy,’ his actions speak louder than words. He is satisfied with the status quo and refusing to improve future elections. These bills closed loopholes, standardized procedures, established uniformity, guaranteed only the voter can correct their own ballot and protected votes of seniors in long-term care. I am very disappointed Governor Evers refuses to do the right thing.”

The vetoed bills are among the key bills that the GOP has been pushing since January that would impose new voting restrictions. There has been tremendous pushback from disability rights groups, fair election advocates, a coalition of advocacy groups that includes Common Cause Wisconsin and Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and others against the bills.

The only other speaker at the veto signing was Jenny Neugart, head of the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities, which is a member of the Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition.

“Voting rights are the cornerstone of our democracy. We shouldn’t have to fight to have equal and easy access to the fundamental right to vote that gives us all a say in our government,” said Neugart. “Most troubling is the punitive nature of many of these bills, that’s causing concern that caregivers and neighbors can’t or won’t be able to help people with disabilities vote.”

Jenny Neugart, head of the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities, which is a member of the Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition
Jenny Neugart

Many of the bills target absentee voting, which Neugart called “a lifeline for people with disabilities” due to barriers with transportation and technology, as well as unpredictable medical conditions. She cited a statistic from the American Association of People with Disabilities, that 23% of the Nov. 2020 electorate “were individuals with some type of disability, including disabilities acquired through aging,” a number she noted is rising in Wisconsin.

Evers had already indicated he would veto any bills making voting more difficult, which Democrats have strongly opposed.  Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison), who stood next to the governor during his announcement, has called the legislation “a pile of bills built on conspiracy theories and lies.”

At the veto ceremony, Evers also addressed the two election so-called audits and investigations that have been launched by Vos and Assembly elections chair Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls). He said they are trying to relitigate something that has already been litigated hundreds, if not thousands, of times across the country, and he cast doubt on the legality of the subpoenas.

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

“Republican legislators started stirring the pot [so] their constituents are going to say, ‘Well what’s up with that?’” Evers said. “And so now it’s time for those that have stirred the pot to say, ‘There’s nothing there.’ We’ve seen it happen — obviously they’re not going to do this.”

Evers noted that after his close election with former Gov. Scott Walker, Walker conceded. And Republicans should finally do the same for President Joe Biden. 

After he put his veto out on social media, Evers got a shout out from Vice President Kamala Harris on Twitter.

“There’s been all sorts of opportunities for people to say, ‘I was wrong. Let’s move on,’” Evers said. “But apparently it’s too important to jazz things up for the next election. That’s really unfortunate for the people of this state. And that’s why I’m so happy to veto these bills.”

 

Gov. Tony Evers signs his veto of bills making it harder to vote on Aug. 10 | Evers' YouTube

The following are the Senate bills, some objections and the actions Evers took on them:

SB 203/AB192

This bill claims to improve secure delivery of absentee ballots by dramatically limiting who can return absentee ballots. Complex details include designating one family member or legal guardian or spelling out one person in writing who can return a ballot for you.  That is problematic if a voter’s family is not in Wisconsin or for voters who have not formally designated a legal guardian. Often people with disabilities are non-drivers, and many were anxious about having lead time to mail back absentee ballots and needed assistance. “We got a lot of calls from people who didn’t want to mail their ballot” in the 2020 presidential election, said Barbara Beckert, director of Disability Rights in Wisconsin’s Milwaukee office, in an interview with the Wisconsin Examiner earlier this year.  She added that church groups and voting advocates such as Souls to the Polls often step in to help, but this bill would have prevented them from doing so. Evers veto message focused on the constraints it would have put on municipalities efforts to collect absentee ballots.

SB 204/AB201

This bill prohibits automatically sending out absentee ballot applications to all eligible voters. It would make sending an application — which groups like DRW can do under current law — a felony. “So there is supposed to be a permanent absentee voter provision,” said Beckert. Having to fill out an application for repeated elections) and provide a photo ID each time is difficult for people who do not have access to technology and would disenfranchise voters, she said. “We think that that’s getting rid of the whole point of [the permanent absentee provision] … Some voters because of disability, age or a health condition need that option to automatically receive absentee ballots.”

SB205/AB179 

This bill limits residential care facilities’ ability to assist voters. There are special voting deputies that go out to facilities, but lists of facilities are not comprehensive. “They’re people who are much younger with disabilities who live in care facilities and I’ve talked to some of them and let me tell you, they do not have an easy time of voting,” said Beckert, who noted that the penalties could easily scare workers. “The devil is in the details, but if you were a CNA working in a care facility I don’t think you would feel comfortable saying, ‘Oh, do you want to request an absentee ballot? Do you want to register to vote?’” she said. And nothing ensures people moving into a care facility will proactively get voting information. The League of Women Voters said of this bill, “Charging people with a felony for making a good faith effort to encourage people to vote is extreme. This offensive legislation assumes the residents cannot make independent decisions.”

SB212/AB198

This bill would prohibit a clerk from correcting a defect on the envelope of an absentee ballot — for example, by filling in a witness address. The timeline might not allow for a ballot to be returned to a voter and resubmitted. And while rejected envelopes would  be posted on My Vote, people without access to computers or reliable internet service wouldn’t see that notification. According to the Wisconsin Conservation Voters in that organization’s stated opposition to the bill, “People have the right to expect that their votes will be counted. SB 212 would increase the number of rejected absentee ballots by no longer allowing clerks to fix obvious defects on absentee ballot certificates that do not in any way constitute fraud.”

SB210/AB 170

This bill would have allowed observers to sit or stand within 3 feet of poll workers — and anyone intentionally obstructing this could be jailed for six months and fined up to $1,000.  Under current law they must be permitted to stand within 8 feet from the table. One of Republicans’ frequent complaints from the presidential election, despite the fact that it was held during a pandemic, is that as election observers they were not allowed close enough to see exactly what poll workers were doing. Elections overseer and former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman complained about this happening during a recount.  The League of Women Voters opposed this bill, stating it “would allow observers to be within 3 feet of the poll workers who are assisting with voter registration or voter check-in at the polls. As an organization that advocates for voters and also places trained observers in the polls, we believe having observers this close fails to protect a voter’s confidential documents and could be intimidating for some voters and poll workers.”

SB292/AB271

This bill would mandate that municipal clerks who livestream vote canvassing maintain recordings of that livestream for at least 22 months after the election. In his veto message, Evers said that the bill creates an unequal burden on municipalities that choose to broadcast their election canvass in the interest of transparency. And that it would serve as a disincentive for other municipalities who might otherwise consider using a livestream.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.

MORE FROM AUTHOR