Bipartisan vote tracking measure brings parties together on elections

By: - February 13, 2023 5:22 am
Milwaukee voters go to the polls on Election Day 2022 | Photo by Isiah Holmes

Milwaukee voters go to the polls on Election Day 2022 | Photo by Isiah Holmes

A Republican-authored bill with bipartisan support in the Wisconsin Legislature would allow voters to track the status of their ballots through text messages sent to their cell phones.

Currently, absentee voters must log into MyVote, the Wisconsin Election Commission’s information portal, to make sure their ballots have been received by a clerk. Under Senate Bill 39, introduced by Sens. Rachael Cabral-Guevara (R-Appleton) Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit), Kelda Roys (D-Madison) and Cory Tomczyk (R-Mosinee) voters who apply for absentee ballots can sign up for free text message updates letting them know when their ballots are received.

The Secure Democracy Foundation, a national nonprofit group dedicated to building confidence in elections and improving voters’ access to the ballot box across the United States, applauds the Wisconsin measure.

“SB-39 is an encouraging step forward toward building consensus around greater transparency and peace of mind for voters,” says Evan Preston, director of advocacy for Secure Democracy USA.

Voters in 49 states including Wisconsin have some sort of ballot-tracking system, and at least eight other states use a system to actively notify voters about the status of their ballots, according to the group.

Preston describes the Wisconsin measure as a good next step in an already good system. “The good news for voters in Wisconsin is that every review has found strength and integrity in the election system,” he says. One important aspect of SB-39 is that it would not impose any extra burden on election clerks, who are already working hard and doing a good job, he adds.

Preston sees the constructive, bipartisan measure as “a really positive step … after so much division and acrimony” around election administration — based on Republicans’ false claims of “massive fraud” in the 2020 presidential election.

It seems unlikely that the text messaging service will mollify hardcore conspiracy theorists who continue to insist that Democratic voters are taking part in a huge underground voter impersonation racket to steal elections. Nevertheless, Democracy advocates in Wisconsin are supporting the bill as a positive step in a Legislature deeply divided over voting procedures.

Common Cause Wisconsin has registered in support, after privacy concerns were resolved, adding language that keeps mobile phone numbers submitted through the new system confidential.

“My concern always is that a generally positive measure like this might later during the legislative process be amended to include some onerous (anti-voting ) provision which then makes it impossible to support the overall measure,” says Jay Heck of Common Cause Wisconsin. “That occurred a few times in the last session with some voting measures.”

One positive aspect of SB-39 is that it’s a stand-alone measure, Heck says, “rather than the mixed packages of bills we saw last session on elections and voting where some parts of the bill might have been something to support but there was always a part (or several parts) of the bill that would be terrible for voters so it could not have been supported as a whole,” Heck adds. “That’s very important.”

While providing text updates so voters don’t have to go online to check their ballot status might seem like a minor change, Heck calls it an improvement on the current system.

“It has potential to be built out into more, as well,” he says, “like maybe in the future it could also inform voters if they forgot to sign their ballot certificate and they need to contact their clerk to do that to have their ballot counted.”

Preston calls the Wisconsin measure “one of the most promising bills we’ve seen” across the nation.

Both Preston and Heck are encouraged by the prospect of constructive legislation that improves the system for voters — marking, as Heck puts it, “a small step forward for ‘personkind’ and a giant step away from the partisan, anti-voter legislation we have far too often seen emanating from the Wisconsin Legislature in recent years.”


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Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. Conniff is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. Her book "Milked: How an American Crisis Brought Together Midwestern Dairy Farmers and Mexican Workers" won the 2022 Studs and Ida Terkel Award from The New Press.