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What Wisconsin is doing in 2021 to Correct Election Laws

Someone has to do something about the questions surrounding the 2020 election. We’ve never seen anything like it. Key swing states had laws on the books specifying legitimate delivery of ballots, voter registration, voter identification, observing elections, ballot handling and storage. Due to covid-19 a number of local agencies and departments in those states decided to rewrite or ignore state election laws. Lawsuits followed. What really happened? Federal and state supreme courts upheld written laws passed by state legislation. Basically those decisions should have voided ballots arriving after election day. The problem was, state laws did not address late arriving ballots , and what to do after they were counted and added to the total vote count. City clerks and election commission members should have held late arriving ballots and kept them separate until decisions could be made. Instead, local officials decided to count late ballots and mix them with authorized ballots. Election commissions in swing states decided to take laws into their own hands claiming covid-19 emergency orders gave them authority to take measures outside state laws.

What to do? Investigations by state legislative branches saw questionable activity. Over 3000 witnesses testified in state hearings in key states. Ballots did arrive late. Mail in ballots were not verified according to state law. Other election laws were modified or ignored. The problem was, none of those laws addressed penalties for breaking, ignoring, misinterpreting, or rewriting state election laws. In some cases it was evident laws were ignored and broken. It became evident election laws did not specify how to deal with late ballots, forged ballots, and illegitimate ballots. Election laws lacked fines and penalties to deal with those infractions.

The solution

After the 2020 election it became evident election laws needed to be reviewed and modified to deal with issues brought to light. A number of Wisconsin State representatives have reviewed election laws and submitted changes to curb and help eliminate election fraud and questionable activities. Those new laws focus on defining mail in ballots, time frames, voter registration, voter identification, ballot collection, the observation of elections, and other issues questioned in the 2020 election. Those new laws add fines and penalties for individuals and organizations interfering with elections.

Wisconsin has taken the lead in election security. Attempting to correct infractions in the 2020 election would open a can of worms no one wants to deal with. There is no precedent to work from, and no one wants to establish a precedent that could be misused in future elections. The only logical course of action is to learn from the 2020 election and tighten existing laws to deal with the disagreements and loose interpretations witnessed before, during, and after the 2020 election results. Here is a list of State Bills in the 2021 Wisconsin Senate designed to deal with election issues.

2021 Senate BILL 203

This bill makes a number of changes related to obtaining and returning

absentee ballots.

Current law provides that a voter may make a written application to the

municipal clerk to obtain an absentee ballot by mail, in person at the clerk’s office

or at an alternate absentee ballot site, by an agent for a hospitalized voter, by

delivering an application to a special voting deputy, or electronically. This bill also

allows a voter to use a for-profit commercial delivery service that moves parcels

nationally and internationally to return an absentee ballot application.

Current law requires that an absentee ballot be returned by mail or in person

to the municipal clerk. Under the bill, an absentee ballot must be returned by mail

or by the voter, a member of the voter’s immediate family, or the voter’s legal

guardian to the office of the municipal clerk; to the municipal clerk at an alternate

absentee ballot site; to the site of a collection event; or to the voter’s polling place on

election day. If the voter is unable to deliver the absentee ballot and has no legal

guardian or immediate family residing in this state, the voter may designate, in

writing, one person who is a registered voter in this state to deliver the ballot, except

that the voter may not designate a candidate on the ballot nor compensate the person

to deliver the ballot. No person designated to deliver a ballot may deliver more than

one ballot for any election for a person who is not a member of the person’s immediate

family.

The bill allows a municipality to designate a site other than the municipal

clerk’s office as a location for a voter to return his or her completed absentee ballot.

Unlike an alternate absentee ballot site under current law, a site designated for the

collection of completed absentee ballots may not be used by a voter to make a request

for and vote by absentee ballot. However, similar to an alternate absentee ballot site,

a designated collection site must be located as near as practicable to the office of the

municipal clerk. In addition, like an alternate absentee ballot site, a collection site

must be staffed by the municipal clerk or employees of the clerk and be accessible to

all individuals with disabilities. Under the bill, a voter may return his or her

completed absentee ballot to a collection site only during the period that coincides

with the period for making applications for in person absentee ballots. That period

begins no earlier than 14 days preceding an election and ends no later than the

Sunday preceding that election.

Finally, the bill prohibits a person from obtaining a marked absentee ballot

from another person in order to deliver it to the municipal clerk or polling place,

unless the person obtaining the ballot is a member of the voter’s immediate family

or the voter’s legal guardian. A person who violates this prohibition is guilty of a

Class I felony.

Because this bill creates a new crime or revises a penalty for an existing crime,

the Joint Review Committee on Criminal Penalties may be requested to prepare a

report.

https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/sb203

2021 Senate BILL 203 address the delivery of absentee ballots. This bill prohibits the creation, installation, and use of make shift, independent ballot collection boxes which in the 2020 election were unsecured and easily abused. Unauthorized ballots could be easily added to those drop boxes. Individuals can easily screen unsecured drop boxes by eliminating ballots they do not agree with. Fines need to be added for people attempting to tamper with authorized and secured ballot boxes, adding illegitimate ballots or attempting to remove authorized ballots.

2021 Senate BILL 204

This bill makes a number of changes to the laws relating to absentee ballots in

Wisconsin.

1. Applications for absentee ballots

Subject to an exception for certain voters at residential care facilities and

qualified retirement homes, current law prohibits a municipal clerk from issuing an

absentee ballot to a voter, including in person at the municipal clerk’s office, unless

the voter submits a written application for the absentee ballot. Current law does not

prescribe a specific form of written application for requesting absentee ballots.

The bill requires the Elections Commission to prescribe the form and

instructions of the absentee ballot application. The bill also requires the absentee

ballot application to be separate and distinct from the certificate envelope in which

voters must seal and submit absentee ballots, the outer portion of which includes

certifications of both the voter and a witness. Additionally, the bill requires that the

application require the voter to certify facts establishing that he or she is eligible to

vote in the election and must include at least all of the following information:

a. The voter’s municipality and county of residence.

b. The voter’s name, date of birth, and contact information, including as

applicable the voter’s telephone number, fax number, and e-mail address.

c. The street address of the voter’s legal voting residence.

d. The election at which the voter intends to vote absentee.

e. Whether the voter is a military or overseas voter.

f. The voter’s confidential identification serial number if the voter has obtained

a confidential listing for purposes of voting.

g. The lawful method by which the voter prefers to receive the absentee ballot.

h. Whether the voter is a hospitalized voter.

The bill provides that any municipal clerk issuing an absentee ballot without

having received a completed application on the form prescribed by the Elections

Commission under the bill that contains the voter’s original written signature, a copy

of the voter’s original written signature if transmitted by facsimile transmission, or

the voter’s electronic signature if submitted in Portable Document Format (PDF) by

e-mail, or the signature of a person authorized by law to sign on the elector’s behalf,

is subject to a Class I felony, which is punishable by a fine not to exceed $10,000 or

imprisonment not to exceed three years and six months, or both.

2. Automatic receipt of absentee ballots

Current law allows the following voters to receive absentee ballots

automatically for each election for specified periods:

a. Indefinitely confined voters. Current law allows a voter who identifies

himself or herself as indefinitely confined because of age, physical illness, infirmity,

or disability to have, by signing a statement to that effect, an absentee ballot sent to

the voter automatically every election. If an indefinitely confined voter fails to vote

in an election, the municipal clerk must remove the voter from the indefinitely

confined list if the voter does not renew his or her indefinitely confined status after

30-days’ notice. Additionally, the clerk must remove a voter from the list if the clerk

receives reliable information indicating the voter is no longer indefinitely confined.

b. Overseas voters. Certain overseas voters registered to vote in Wisconsin may

apply for automatic receipt of absentee ballots for all national elections occurring

during the year of application.

c. Military voters. Service members who are on active duty and as a result are

absent from their residence in Wisconsin may apply for automatic receipt of absentee

ballots for all elections occurring during the year of application, or as otherwise

requested by the service member.

d. All other voters. Any other voter eligible to vote absentee in Wisconsin may

apply for automatic receipt of absentee ballots for all elections occurring in the voter’s

municipality during the year of application.

The bill eliminates the option for indefinitely confined voters, overseas voters,

and all other voters, other than military voters, to receive an absentee ballot

automatically for any election. However, the bill authorizes indefinitely confined

voters to request and receive absentee ballot applications, rather than absentee

ballots, automatically for each election. Active duty service members may continue

to request automatic receipt of absentee ballots as provided under current law.

3. Photo ID requirements for absentee voters

Current law requires most voters applying to vote absentee in an election to

submit proof of identification, such as a driver’s license, with their absentee ballot

application. The municipal clerk must verify that the name on the proof of

identification conforms to the name on the voter’s absentee ballot application.

However, current law exempts from that proof of identification requirement certain

indefinitely confined voters, as described above; overseas voters; and voters who

received an absentee ballot from the municipal clerk by mail for a previous election,

had provided proof of identification with that ballot, and had not changed their name

or address since providing that proof of identification.

This bill eliminates those three exemptions. The bill leaves in place all of the

following exemptions under current law:

a. Active duty military voters are exempt from having to submit proof of

identification with the absentee ballot application.

b. Certain individuals who are the victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault,

or stalking may obtain a confidential listing and keep their identities private for

purposes of voting. If an individual applies and qualifies for a confidential listing,

he or she is issued a unique identification serial number by the Elections

Commission. When applying for an absentee ballot, an individual who has obtained

a confidential listing may submit that unique identification serial number in lieu of

providing proof of identification.

c. Residents of residential care facilities or qualified retirement homes who, in

lieu of providing a copy of proof of identification with their absentee ballot, may

submit a statement signed by special voting deputies, or by others if no special voting

deputies are available, that includes certain information and certifications required

by law.

d. An individual whose driver’s license is revoked and who has been required

to surrender his or her license within 60 days before an election may enclose a copy

of the citation or notice in lieu of submitting his or her driver’s license for purposes

of applying for an absentee ballot.

4. Unsolicited mailing or transmission of absentee ballot applications and

absentee ballots

The bill prohibits any municipal or county clerk or municipal or county board

of election commissioners, and any person acting on behalf of the Elections

Commission, from sending or transmitting an absentee ballot application or an

absentee ballot to a voter for purposes of voting in an election unless the voter applies

for the application or ballot as provided by law. Any person violating that prohibition

is guilty of a Class I felony.

5. Notices concerning the canvass of absentee ballots

Under the bill, once the canvassing of absentee ballots begins with respect to

any election, the municipal clerk must hourly post, at his or her office and on the

Internet, a statement showing the number of absentee ballots that the clerk has

mailed or transmitted to voters, the number of absentee ballots that have been

returned to the clerk, the number of absentee ballots counted, and the number of

absentee ballots remaining to be counted.

Electronic voter registrations

Under current law, an individual holding a valid driver’s license or

identification card issued by the Department of Transportation and who is eligible

to vote in Wisconsin may register electronically. The Elections Commission

maintains an Internet site that is used by voting-eligible individuals for purposes

of electronic registration, currently titled MyVote Wisconsin. Current law requires

the commission to provide a secure registration form on that Internet site that

enables the individual to enter and update the information necessary for purposes

of voter registration. Upon the voter’s authorization, the commission obtains the

individual’s electronic signature from DOT for purposes of authenticating the

information provided by the individual.

The bill requires the Elections Commission to maintain a version of the

completed application, including the voter’s electronic signature, in PDF. The

commission must make the PDF version of the completed application available to the

municipal clerk or board of election commissioners of the municipality where the

voter resides.

Because this bill creates a new crime or revises a penalty for an existing crime,

the Joint Review Committee on Criminal Penalties may be requested to prepare a

report.

For further information see the state and local fiscal estimate, which will be

printed as an appendix to this bill.

https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/sb204

2021 Senate BILL 204 provides that any municipal clerk issuing an absentee ballot without

having received a completed application is subject to a Class I felony, which is punishable by a fine not to exceed $10,000 or imprisonment not to exceed three years and six months, or both. This bill establishes standards for absentee ballots as well as online voter registration.

This bill does lack fines and penalties for persons and organizations misusing absentee ballot laws and people knowingly attempting to register nonexistent voters or applying for absentee ballots for legitimate voters then using those absentee ballots for their own personal use.

2021 Senate BILL 206

Current law allows a voter who is indefinitely confined because of age, physical

illness, infirmity, or disability to have, by signing a statement to that effect, an

absentee ballot sent to the voter automatically every election. The voter is not

required to submit a copy of his or her voter identification with the request to receive

absentee ballots automatically, but is required to notify the municipal clerk when the

voter is no longer indefinitely confined.

This bill does all of the following:

1. Requires that the voter’s statement claiming that he or she is indefinitely

confined be made under oath.

2. If the voter is under the age of 65, requires that the voter’s statement be

signed by a physician, physician assistant, or advanced practice registered nurse

who has primary responsibility for the treatment and care of the voter.

4. Specifies that the existence of an outbreak or epidemic of a communicable

disease in a voter’s community does not qualify the voter as indefinitely confined.

5. Provides that a voter’s status as indefinitely confined is removed every two

years unless the voter submits a renewal application.

6. Specifies that the penalty for making a false statement for the purpose of

qualifying as indefinitely confined is a Class I felony, which is a fine not to exceed

$10,000 or imprisonment not to exceed three years and six months, or both.

6. Requires the Elections Commission to facilitate the removal of the

indefinitely confined status of each voter who received that status between March

12, 2020, and November 6, 2020. A voter whose indefinitely confined status is so

removed must submit a new application for indefinitely confined status in order to

continue receiving absentee ballots automatically.

https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/sb206

2021 Senate BILL 206 addresses the problems seen in the 2020 election where voters decided to reinterpret current Wisconsin voting laws by using covid-19 restrictions passed under executive order as an excuse to misuse mail in ballots. 2021 law now requires voting by mail in ballot due to long term illness to provide medical proof. This new law only effects those under the age of 65 will long term illnesses. It also requires the Elections Commission to verify that list every 2 years. This bill also specifies fines and penalties for people and organizations intentionally ignoring or attempting to redefine election laws.

2021 Senate BILL 207

Under this bill, no official or agent of a county, city, village, or town may apply

for or accept any donation or grant of moneys, equipment, materials, or personnel

from an individual or nongovernmental entity for purposes of election

administration, except as expressly authorized under the statutes relating to

elections. If the Elections Commission accepts a donation or grant of moneys from

an individual or nongovernmental entity for purposes of election administration, the

commission may not expend those moneys, except as follows:

1. The commission must distribute the moneys to each municipality in

Wisconsin on a per capita basis, subject to an exception for distributions that would

result in any municipality receiving less than $25.

2. The commission may expend the moneys only as approved by the Joint

Committee on Finance.

Under the bill, whoever violates one of the prohibitions described above is guilty

of a Class I felony, the penalty for which is a fine not to exceed $10,000 or

imprisonment not to exceed three years and six months, or both.

The bill also makes it a Class I felony for any person to assist in counting or

tabulating votes at an election unless the person is a resident of this state, is a

tabulator or election official who is trained to the extent provided by law, and has

signed the official oath and returned it to the municipal clerk with respect to that

election.

Finally, the bill prohibits the appointment of any poll worker who is an

employee of any of the following:

1. A candidate committee, legislative campaign committee, political action

committee, independent expenditure committee, political party, recall committee, or

referendum committee, as those terms are defined by law.

2. A political organization required to register with the federal elections

commission.

3. An issue advocacy group.

Because this bill creates a new crime or revises a penalty for an existing crime,

the Joint Review Committee on Criminal Penalties may be requested to prepare a

report.

https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/sb207

2021 Senate BILL 207 basically forbids municipalities from receiving grants and donations from any source that relate to elections, election equipment, and election workers. Poll workers are no longer allowed to be associated with political and special interest groups. This bill includes fines for municipalities who chose to ignore or break this law but lack fines and penalties for individuals from political and special interest groups who choose to infiltrate and influence election results.

2021 Senate BILL 209

Under current law, a voter may return his or her absentee ballot by mailing it

or delivering it in person to the municipal clerk. Under this bill, a voter may return

his or her absentee ballot by mailing it or delivering it in person to the office of the

municipal clerk, except that the voter may return it to a drop box authorized by the

municipal clerk that is attached to a building where the municipal clerk’s office is

permanently located. The bill prohibits the use of any other drop box for the delivery

of an absentee ballot.

Under the bill, if the municipal clerk authorizes the use of a drop box, the drop

box must be tamper-resistant and moisture-resistant, include a slot that is only

large enough to allow for the insertion of an absentee ballot, satisfy the accessibility

requirements under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, and be emptied

once each day at 9 a.m. by the clerk or deputy clerk in public view. Finally, the clerk

must publish notice of the location of the drop box and the days on which it is

available for receiving absentee ballots.

https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/sb209

2021 Senate BILL 209 funnels all ballots through the municipal clerk, an elected official. In the 2020 election we saw ballots arriving from a number of sources including personal delivery to the location of the final ballot count, deliveries in post office trucks, private vehicles, and rental trucks. This law needs to go a step further by spelling out, “deliveries through other sources is illegal,” and include fines and penalties for people and organizations creating their own delivery services. Also fines and penalties for municipal clerks who decide to ignore or rewrite this and other election laws.

2021 Senate BILL 210

Current law allows any member of the public to observe the conduct of an

election at a polling place or at a site for voting by absentee ballot in person. An

individual may also observe the canvassing of absentee ballots. Under current law,

an election observer must print his or her name and sign and date a log maintained

by the municipal clerk or chief inspector. In addition, the clerk or chief inspector

must designate an observation area that is not less than three feet from nor more

than eight feet from the table where voters announce their name and address and

not less than three feet from nor more than eight feet from the table where

individuals are registered to vote. The clerk or chief inspector must establish the

observation area at a location where an observer may readily observe all aspects of

the voting process. Finally, the clerk or chief inspector may remove an election

observer who disrupts the voting process, engages in electioneering, or posts

election-related material.

Current law also requires a board of canvassers to publicly conduct all steps of

a recount. During the conduct, the person who petitioned for the recount, the

opposing candidates, and other interested persons are entitled to be present in

person and by counsel to observe the proceedings.

This bill requires the municipal clerk, chief inspector, and board of canvassers

to provide election observers uniform and nondiscriminatory access to all stages of

the election process, including recounts. Under the bill, an election observer must

wear a badge with the name of the observer and the name of the organization, if any,

the observer is representing. The observer may not wear any campaign material

advocating voting for or against a candidate or for or against any position on a ballot

question. An observer who violates this prohibition may be expelled from the

location where the observer is observing election procedures, but an observer who

violates the prohibition more than once is considered to be engaged in disorderly

conduct and guilty of a Class B misdemeanor. In addition, an election observer may

not interfere with a voter nor hinder an election official in the performance of his or

her duties. An observer who violates this prohibition is subject to a forfeiture not to

exceed $500.

Finally, the bill expands the observation area required under current law so

that it is not more than three feet from the table where voters announce their name

and address and not more than three feet from the table where individuals are

registered to vote.

Because this bill creates a new crime or revises a penalty for an existing crime,

the Joint Review Committee on Criminal Penalties may be requested to prepare a

report.

https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/sb210

2021 Senate BILL 210 defines election observers and the space they are able to occupy while observing the stages of the election process. Observers may not wear clothing endorsing a candidate or question on the ballot. Fines are also added to the current law to deal with election observers interfering with voters and poll workers. The bill does lack fines and penalties for municipal clerks, chief inspectors, and board of canvassers who choose to ignore or modify this bill.

2021 Senate BILL 212

Current law prohibits election officials from committing certain kinds of

election fraud, including permitting a person to register to vote or vote when the

election official knows the person is not qualified to do so. This bill provides further

that no election official may do any of the following:

1. Intentionally assist or cause the casting or counting of a vote or the receipt

of a registration that the election official knows is invalid.

2. Intentionally assist or cause a vote or registration to be rejected when the

election official knows the vote or registration is valid.

3. Intentionally fail to promptly report election fraud committed by another

election official.

Under current law, an election official who commits election fraud is generally

subject to a fine not to exceed $10,000 or imprisonment not to exceed three years and

six months or both. Under the bill, election officials violating the prohibitions

described above are likewise subject to that penalty.

Absentee ballot certificates

Under current law, absentee ballot envelopes include a printed certificate that

must be completed, signed by the voter and a qualified witness, and returned to the

municipal clerk with the completed ballot so that it is delivered to the polling place

no later than 8 p.m. on election day. By completing and signing the certificate, the

voter certifies that he or she is entitled to vote in the election and that the voter

completed his or her absentee ballot in the presence of the witness. The witness

certificate includes the witness’s printed name and address in addition to his or her

signature. If a municipal clerk receives an absentee ballot with an improperly

completed certificate or with no certificate, the clerk may, but is not required to,

return the ballot to the voter whenever time permits so that the voter may correct

the defect.

Under this bill, if a municipal clerk receives an absentee ballot with an

improperly completed certificate or with no certificate, the clerk is required to return

the ballot to the voter and post a notification of the defect on the voter’s voter

information page on the Internet site that is used by voters for original registration,

currently titled MyVote Wisconsin. The bill also prohibits the municipal clerk from

correcting a defect in the certificate.

Because this bill creates a new crime or revises a penalty for an existing crime,

the Joint Review Committee on Criminal Penalties may be requested to prepare a

report.

For further information see the state and local fiscal estimate, which will be

printed as an appendix to this bill.

2021 Senate BILL 212 establishes fines for municipal clerks who knowingly accept incomplete or invalid voter registration forms. This bill needs to go further by establishing fines and penalties for individuals and organizations producing forged voter registration and ballots. Those fines and penalties have to exceed income derived from such ventures.

Other Laws We Need Passed

Although the Wisconsin legislature has taken strides to secure future elections, major laws are missing. The major area is in voter machine security. Voting machines and the transfer of ballot information needs to follow the strictest security measures. All voting machines need to be encrypted. Only authorized personal should be granted access through a log in process that records when that person logged in, why they logged in, what information was accessed, why it was accessed, and any changes to the votes as well as the software controlling the voting machine. Any login results in an immediate back up that can only be accessed by supervisors. Backups have to be compared to any information collected after machine access. Wisconsin needs to outlaw any type of unauthorized access from outside the state as well as outlaw any overseas access. Any access from and IP address from out of state triggers warnings to supervisors. Any access from overseas IP addresses shuts down that access and sends out warnings to supervisors. The software for such control exists and by law needs to be added to every voting machine throughout the country. Sever fines and penalties must accompany the violation of laws regarding voting machine Internet access, login procedures, and information sharing.

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