Wisconsin voters decide whether to ban private money from helping finance elections

By | March 17, 2024

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Wisconsin voters will decide next month whether to make it unconstitutional to accept private subsidies to help run state elections, one of two Republican-backed voting measures that Democrats say are aimed at making it more difficult hold elections in the presidential battleground state.

The constitutional amendments on the April 2 state ballot also include a change to allow only election officials designated by law to administer elections. If a majority of voters approve, the amendments will be added to the state constitution.

Early in-person absentee voting begins Tuesday and can be offered through March 31.

Since 2020, Republicans in at least 27 states have banned or limited subsidies for private elections.

The measures in Wisconsin are supported by Republicans and conservative groups and opposed by a range of government watchdogs and liberal groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause Wisconsin, Wisconsin Conservation Voters and the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.

No Democratic lawmakers voted in favor of the amendment, which will be split into two questions for the April vote.

The actions in Wisconsin follow false claims by former President Donald Trump and his supporters that widespread voter fraud tipped the 2020 presidential election in President Joe Biden’s favor.

“People must be able to trust that elections will be fair and impartial,” said Senator Eric Wimberger, co-author of the amendments, in a statement message posted on X, formerly Twitter. “Wisconsin’s status as a swing state makes election integrity measures important locally, nationally and internationally.”

Opponents say the measures are intended to make it more difficult to organize elections.

The amendments specifically address a Republican complaint about grant money that came to Wisconsin in 2020 from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a liberal group that fights for voter access and is funded by Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan.

The state’s five largest cities, all of which Biden won, received $8.8 million. They were among about 200 communities in Wisconsin that received about $10 million as part of the $350 million distributed nationwide to help with the costs of conducting elections during the COVID-19 pandemic before vaccines were available.

Republicans who called the money “Zuckerbucks” complained that most of the money went to Democratic strongholds and claimed it was an attempt by the billionaire to tilt the vote in Democrats’ favor.

“In the interest of maintaining fairness and ensuring the integrity of our democratic process, it is essential to maintain an impartial electoral system that is free from external financial influences,” said Kyle Koenen, policy director of the Conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. , testified in support of the measure.

Zuckerberg and Chan have repeatedly said the one-time donation was intended to strengthen election infrastructure at the height of the pandemic to help people vote.

Republicans, who control the Legislature, introduced the constitutional amendment in Wisconsin to bypass Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who almost certainly would have vetoed it if the measure had been a regular bill. Changes are not subject to Governor’s approval.

Three courts and the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission dismissed complaints challenging the legality of the grant money.

The other question on the ballot about who can be a poll worker was separated from the private money question.

Wisconsin law already lays out the requirements for being a poll worker: the people who work as election inspectors and tabulators, greet voters and serve in other roles. For example, each poll worker must be approved by the municipality from a list of nominees submitted by the two major parties, be a qualified voter in the county where the election is taking place, and not be a candidate or related to any candidate on the list. mood.

It is unclear how passage of the amendment would change current practice, beyond incorporating into the Constitution requirements currently in state law. That would make it more difficult to change the requirements.

Opponents of the amendment worry that its passage could lead to efforts to suppress current practices that increase voter participation.

Wisconsin voters have approved 148 of 200 proposed constitutional amendments since the state constitution was adopted in 1848, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau. Since Evers took office, voters have ratified three.

But after the two voted in April, more are on the way.

During the August primary, voters will be asked to change the law to give the Legislature a say in how federal money is spent, rather than the governor deciding.

An amendment to the November ballot says only U.S. citizens 18 or older can vote in elections. The Wisconsin Constitution guarantees that every U.S. citizen age 18 and older is a qualified voter. But it doesn’t specifically say that only U.S. citizens can vote in state or local elections.

Federal law already requires U.S. citizens to vote in national elections, and no state constitution explicitly allows noncitizens to vote in state or local elections.

However, there has been pressure on states to specifically clarify that only U.S. citizens can vote in state and local elections. Some cities and towns across the country have allowed non-residents to vote in local elections.

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