GOP congressional delegation: Restore trust in Wisconsin’s elections

January 4, 2021
Column

The following is an op-ed on the need for election reform from Wisconsin’s Republican U.S. Representatives Glenn Grothman, Mike Gallagher, Bryan Steil, Tom Tiffany and outgoing Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner.

Wisconsinites have lost trust in our election system. Whether you agree or disagree with the many claims of election fraud, the fact is there are glaring problems with our voting processes that need to be fixed. Just as Florida passed election reform in 2001 after the 2000 election controversy, Wisconsin must do the same before any future election is held. This election reform should include, at a minimum, the following steps.

Step 1: Correct the voter rolls

First, Wisconsin must maintain up-to-date, accurate voter rolls so non- residents and deceased individuals cannot vote in Wisconsin elections. This was perhaps the Wisconsin Election Commission’s (WEC) biggest failure leading up to the 2020 election. Due to WEC decisions, tens of thousands of names of individuals that had moved remained on the voter rolls. Those registrations, at the addresses from which they had moved, should have been deactivated. The state legislature and the courts cannot allow WEC to continue this conduct which creates a substantial opportunity for voter fraud. If WEC will not comply with the law as written, then the law must be updated so that WEC has no wiggle room to make up the law as it prefers.  Also, we must clarify, in our state criminal code and in federal criminal law, that double-voting is illegal and demand elected District Attorneys enforce the law.

Step 2: Ban Ballot Harvesting

“Ballot harvesting,” where individuals or groups gather other people’s absentee ballots and deliver them to election clerks, is a dangerous idea and is ripe for voter intimidation. Technically it is already illegal in Wisconsin, but again WEC has failed to enforce the law as written. Instead, WEC issued guidance that permits ballot harvesting and allowing reckless partisans to exploit the guidance to conduct de-facto ballot harvesting events like “Democracy in the Park” in Madison, which additionally violated early voting timelines. Restoring trust in our elections means we all follow the rules we agreed to before the election, not altering the rules to benefit one side when voting has begun.

Step 3: Close the Voter ID Loophole

Wisconsin has strong, necessary voter ID laws, but a current loophole allows absentee voters to sidestep these requirements if they self-identify as “indefinitely confined.” Unsurprisingly, after liberal county clerks in Dane and Milwaukee counties encouraged voters to claim indefinite confinement due to the coronavirus pandemic, the number of “indefinitely confined” voters in Wisconsin skyrocketed from 72,000 to over 200,000. The massive increase is not a result of age, physical illness, infirmity, disability (i.e. legitimate reasons for claiming indefinite confinement), or even coronavirus. Moreover, in a state where elections are frequently decided by just thousands of votes, to allow nearly a quarter of a million voters to vote without showing an ID invites fraud and skirts the obvious intent of the law.  We should close this loophole and require an ID in order to vote.

Step 4: No Midnight Ballot Dumps

On election night, after weeks of voting, many Wisconsinites went to bed thinking President Trump had won re-election, only to wake up to see that his 100,000 vote lead had disappeared when absentee ballots in largest cities were counted. Thirty-nine Wisconsin municipalities count ballots at a central location and consistently some of our most liberal cities return their ballots late in the night. Even if every one of those votes was a legal vote, counting in this manner often presents confusion and creates many questions in the minds of voters, campaigns, and the media.  Many other states have solved this issue and report absentee ballot counts on time.  We must find a way to avoid central counts coming in late, either with more manpower, disallowing central counts, or by allowing clerks to review and verify signatures without opening absentee ballots prior to election day.

Step 5: All clerks must follow the letter of the law

All clerks must follow the letter of the law and follow the same rules. A core tenant of fairness is to treat everyone equally. This is critical in our elections. We need consistent rules across the state and clerks must be required to follow them to the letter of the law. We can no longer allow some clerks to discard a ballot when a witness address is not complete and allow another to “cure” the ballot by filling in missing information. Failure to treat every voter the same allows clerks (who naturally have their own political preferences) to decide which ballots to “correct” and then count, and which ones not to fix. Our current practice means that the process can be different in different municipalities, and we all know different municipalities have different voting patterns.  What is needed are clear, consistent rules applied fairly and uniformly across the state.

Step 6: Eliminate confusion

Under current law, voters can request an absentee ballot at the beginning of the year for every election held in that calendar year. This practice has created confusion and misunderstanding for both voters and clerks. Many clerks have reported that voters forget (or do not realize) that they checked the box to receive a ballot for every election in a year. This has resulted in people showing up to vote in person who have already been issued an absentee ballot. These lost absentee ballots create the ability for fraud to occur and makes it difficult for clerks to keep accurate records on absentee ballots. At minimum, the law should allow voters to only request an absentee ballot for one primary and general election at a time.

Conclusion

Doing nothing and ignoring the legitimate concerns of so many Wisconsinites is not an option. Many of these reforms require state law changes. The U.S. Constitution rightly gives states the authority to conduct elections. As the Governor, State Senate and State Assembly work to make improvements, we believe the reforms should contain these key steps. We need a Wisconsin election reform law now, one that sets the new national standard for electoral integrity, transparency and simple fairness.