Wisconsin Republicans want to limit ballot drop boxes

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Ballot drop boxes would not be allowed anywhere other than election clerk offices in Wisconsin, and only voters — not elections officials — could fill out information on absentee envelopes, under the latest election-related bills circulated Wednesday by Republicans.

Also, voters would have to compete a separate written request for in-person absentee voting rather than just completing the ballot and certification envelope as has been done since 2010.

The latest bills add to a growing list of GOP-authored measures addressing issues raised by former President Donald Trump and his supporters following President Joe Biden’s narrow win in battleground Wisconsin. The bills are all but certain to be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who has spoken out against GOP attempts to make absentee voting more difficult.

Republicans have been pushing for election changes after unfounded claims of widespread fraud following Trump’s loss in Wisconsin. A recount in Milwaukee and Dane counties affirmed Biden’s win by fewer than 21,000 votes, and Trump’s state and federal lawsuits challenging the results were rejected.

“Public confidence in our elections is at a crisis point,” Republican Sen. Duey Stroebel said in a statement Wednesday announcing the latest proposals along with Republican Sen. Alberta Darling. “These bills are about restoring confidence in our elections. We must ensure uniformity of process and transparency of conduct so all voters, regardless of political belief, trust the final outcome.”

Democrats have called the GOP attempts to make absentee voting more difficult an assault on democracy.

The Republican bills unveiled Wednesday would:

— Only allow ballot drop boxes that are attached to a building where the municipal clerk’s office is permanently located. Many communities across Wisconsin had multiple drop boxes to make it easier for voters to return ballots during the presidential election last year amid a record surge in absentee voting due to the coronavirus pandemic.

— Prohibit election officials from completing missing information on the certification envelopes returned by voters that contain absentee ballots.

Trump sought to disqualify about 5,500 absentee ballots in Dane and Milwaukee counties where election clerks filled in missing address information on the certification envelope.

Clerks had been filling in missing information on the certification envelopes for a dozen elections prior to the 2020 presidential election, based off guidance from former Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel. The Wisconsin Elections Commission also said the practice was OK, but Trump and Republicans questioned the legality of it since state law doesn’t specifically allow it.

Under the bill, any absentee ballot missing information would be returned to the voter to fix. Officials who fill in the missing information would be guilty of election fraud, which is punishable by up to a $10,000 fine and three years in prison.

— No longer allow those absentee ballot certification envelopes to be counted as a written request for a ballot, as has been the practice for voters who cast absentee ballots in person. Instead, a separate written request form would have to be completed first.

Trump had tried to disqualify more than 170,000 absentee ballots in Dane and Milwaukee counties that were cast in person without a separate written request for the ballot being on file.

— Allow election observers to have “uniform and nondiscriminatory access to all stages of the election process, including recounts.” Trump supporters had complained they were not granted close enough access to watch the recount.

Previously introduced bills would require absentee voters to provide an ID for every election, limit who can automatically receive absentee ballots for every election and create more paperwork for those who vote early in clerk’s offices.

The proposals would also put new limits on when voters are considered indefinitely confined because of age or disability, bar local governments from accepting private donations to help them conduct their elections and effectively stop events outside of the clerk’s office where voters can apply for and cast absentee ballots.

While the bills are likely to be vetoed, they do show the priorities of Republicans and what they may pursue in 2022 if a Republican is elected governor.