No lines outside a polling place in Milwaukee on Election Day 2022 | Photo by Isiah Holmes
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers unveiled a number of proposals to make voting easier as part of his 2023-25 budget, including a program to automatically register people to vote when they get a driver’s license.
The automatic registration, and other voting-related proposals Evers announced, have previously been rejected by Republicans in control of the committee that oversees the Legislature’s budget writing process. Evers is including the provisions in his budget after Wisconsin Republicans have spent years pushing to limit the ease of voting, but he was re-elected last year after partially running on a platform of protecting the state’s democracy.
His other proposals include increasing funding for local election officials, expanding early voting opportunities and allowing absentee ballots to be processed ahead of an election.
“The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy, and we should be making it easier — not harder — for every eligible voter to cast their ballot without interference from politicians,” Evers said in a statement. “Even as some politicians continue their efforts to undermine our safe, secure elections, restrict access to the ballot box, and control the outcomes of our elections, I have and will continue to defend and support the right to vote, our clerks, poll workers, and election administrators, and the opportunity to participate in our democracy.”
In the last decade, Republicans in the state have enacted a strict voter ID requirement and twice instituted legislative maps that guarantee them a near-super majority in both the Assembly and Senate. Since former President Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election in Wisconsin, Republicans have ceaselessly made false claims that the election was stolen — embarking on a number of investigations in a fruitless search for evidence of fraud. Lawsuits from GOP allies have been successful in getting absentee ballot drop boxes declared illegal and a number of lawmakers have proposed abolishing the state’s bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC).
In a politically divided state, Republicans have admitted to taking some of these actions with the intent to drive down turnout among voters of color and younger voters. After the 2022 election, Robert Spindell, a Republican member of the WEC, sent a letter to other members of his party congratulating them on successfully suppressing the Black and Hispanic vote in Milwaukee.
Evers is releasing portions of his proposals ahead of a budget address on Wednesday night. After he unveils his plans, the Legislature’s Republican-dominated Joint Finance Committee will start making changes, likely cutting much of Evers’ agenda.
In his voting-related proposals, the WEC would be allocated $172,700 to work with the state Department of Transportation to implement the automatic voter registration program. DOT would also receive $349,000 to institute the program. A news release from the governor’s office notes that 20 states, including Wisconsin’s neighbors Illinois and Michigan, already have an automatic registration system.
Evers has also proposed restoring a state law that requires public high schools to offer voter registration to eligible students and staff. The proposal states that private and tribal high schools would be allowed to offer registration as well.
When Republicans instituted the voter ID law, university student IDs were included on the list of eligible forms of ID so long as they included the date the card was issued, the student’s signature and an expiration date no later than two years after its issuance. Evers has proposed requiring the University of Wisconsin System and the Wisconsin Technical College System to issue IDs that comply with the rules.
One proposal that may survive the JFC process is a change in state law to allow municipal clerks to count absentee ballots the day before an election. Critics of the state’s election administration have frequently complained that delays caused by the slow process of counting absentee ballots raises suspicions of fraud when those vote totals are added late in the process.
Ahead of the 2020 election, in which absentee voting surged in popularity because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Republicans ignored calls to change the law to allow earlier counting of ballots, yet have embraced the policy in recent years.
Evers has also advanced a request from the WEC to open a new office within the agency aimed at auditing the state’s election systems and responding to public records requests. WEC staff have reported that since the 2020 election, the time dedicated to responding to records requests and answering inquiries from voters has increased dramatically. The Evers budget proposal for the new office includes $2 million and 10 full time staff members.
Also among his proposals is a provision that would shorten the time a voter must live at an address to vote in its assigned precinct from 28 days to 10 days, a proposal that Republicans deleted from his previous budget requests.
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