Empower Wisconsin | March 27, 2020
MADISON — Sen. Kathy Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls) has filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Elections Commission, raising legal questions about Dane and Milwaukee counties’ unilateral decision to extend “indefinitely confined” status to all, eliminating the photo ID requirement.
“I am livid about how the Dane County and Milwaukee (elections officials) think they can make this unilateral decision” without the full approval of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, Bernier said.
Dane County Clerk Scott McDonnell received approval to change election law from a WEC staff member, the senator said. Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe apparently was unaware of the staff member’s guidance, as was the full, six-member Elections Commission.
The changes allow all voters in Dane and Milwaukee counties to vote absentee from home without having to provide voter identification, purportedly a response to the lockdown laws during the coronavirus pandemic.
McDonnell told Wisconsin Public Radio that his office has been “inundated” with calls from voters, especially the elderly who have had trouble uploading a photo of their ID to the online form requesting a ballot and “indefinitely confined” status.
The clerk told the publication that everyone who is able should abide by the voter ID law, but he appears to want to apply blanket exceptions to all voters locked in because of the pandemic.
“We’re all supposed to assume that we are ill, and the people around us are ill, and that’s exactly what it says in the law: if you’re ill, if you’re disabled (and) you’re unable to complete your vote because of that, that’s why this exception is there,” he told WPR.
Milwaukee County Clerk George Chistenson, too defended his decision to liberally apply the law.
But Bernier said local clerks and bureaucrats don’t have the authority to interpret the laws.
“You make sure that the current law, the current administrative rules and processes are followed. That doesn’t mean you get to create new and different policies,” said the senator, who for several years served as a county clerk.
In her complaint, Bernier wrote, “If different processes and procedures are to be incorporated, in the electoral process due to a state emergency, that decision can and should be made by the Wisconsin Election Commission, not a county or municipal clerk.”
At the very least, Bernier said, if there is going to be “indefinitely confined” status allowed during the COVID-19 crisis, it needs to cover to all counties, not just
Wisconsin’s most populous and most liberal.
And there needs to be strict rules in place, that only those truly infirm or those over 60 urged to stay home by the CDC receive the indefinitely confined classification — with accountability to insure voter integrity. The requester should already be a registered voter to be allowed to forgo the voter ID requirement, the senator wrote in her complaint.
“Additionally, the indefinitely confined form, if not already on file, should only be used for this election and cannot be renewed,” she added. The idea is to protect against voter fraud by eliminating the indefinite nature of the exception. Of course, liberal clerks in liberal counties wouldn’t think about doing anything that would tip the scales in favor of liberal candidates. Would they?
“We need to make sure all voters have the same opportunity to vote for their candidate on that ballot and each candidate has the same opportunity in the election,” the senator said.