Empower Wisconsin | Jan. 21, 2021
MADISON — The Wisconsin Elections Commission’s decision to continue to suspend Special Voting Deputies for the February primaries is a clear violation of state law, the chairwoman of the Assembly Campaigns and Elections Committee tells Empower Wisconsin.
In a 5-1 ruling this week (including two of the three Republican members of the six-member commission), WEC maintained its extralegal guidance that municipal clerks should mail absentee ballots to nursing homes. They also are not supposed to send out the voting deputies to assist residents vote.
Some voters have raised concerns about the guidance, ostensibly issued to protect the most vulnerable populations from COVID-19.
But State Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), the new chair of the Elections Committee, notes the many calls she and her colleagues received last year about nursing home employees illegally influencing or leading the voting decisions of cognitively impaired senior citizens in long-term care facilities.
“After all the phone calls we had about the injustices of individuals, I am absolutely shocked that, once again, we’re gong to let some of our seniors be taken advantage of,” Brandtjen said. “We had plenty of calls from family members who said, ‘My mom couldn’t mail in an envelope but she (somehow) requested an absentee ballot.’”
“The fact that we’re going to let this continue is criminal,” she added.
The law is clear: special deputies must be dispatched, and ballots must be hand-delivered.
“State law does not give WEC the authority to require or suspend SVDs in long-term care facilities. WEC’s decision to suspend the practice runs afoul of state law,” said state Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) in a press release. “By suspending SVDs, WEC is effectively ordering the mailing of ballots to vulnerable individuals without the guardianship and ballot oversight expressly laid out in state election law.”
Following the law would be absurd during the pandemic, liberal members of the Elections Commission said.
“What we did in 2020 saved lives,” Commissioner Mark Thomsen, a Democrat, said of the policy on nursing homes.
Bob Spindell was the only Republican member of the commission who voted against the continued suspension.
Republicans have vowed election reform legislation will be a priority this session.
Stroebel said it’s time the Legislature remedy the Elections Commission’s abuse of power, and it needs to put forward a “robust election integrity package.”
“The Elections Commission now has a proven record of ignoring the intent and plain meaning of the law for logistical convenience,” the senator said. “Lawmakers should leave no ambiguity in the statutes so courts are properly armed to enforce our election law.”