Gov. Tony Evers vetoes string of Republican bills meant to change how elections are run
MADISON – Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed nine election bills Friday, including ones that would have given lawmakers the ability to withhold money from election officials and changed voting rules for the disabled and nursing home residents.
Evers' vetoes come as Republicans seeking to challenge him this fall argue the state must overhaul the way it conducts elections after Donald Trump narrowly lost the state in the 2020 presidential election.
"The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy; it should not be subject to the whim of politicians who do not like the outcome of an election," Evers wrote in his veto messages to lawmakers. "Elected officials should not be able to abuse their power to cheat to control the outcomes of our elections or to prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots."
Evers accused Republicans who control the Legislature of engaging in "disinformation" about elections after recounts and courts determined Joe Biden won Wisconsin's presidential election. Assembly Republicans are spending $676,000 in taxpayer money on their own review of that election.
Republicans called their proposals common sense and said Evers had no basis for vetoing them.
"It's clear the governor didn't even bother to read these bills and wants to lump any election reform as a conspiracy theory," Republican state Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills said in a statement.
In all, Evers issued 43 vetoes on Friday, bringing the total number of full vetoes this legislative session to 98. That's the most any governor has issued since the Legislative Reference Bureau began tracking vetoes in 1931.
One bill vetoed by Evers would have given the Legislature's budget committee the ability to withhold funding and cut jobs from the bipartisan state Elections Commission and other agencies if lawmakers determined they didn't follow election laws or provided incorrect guidance to local officials.
A similar bill Evers vetoed would have allowed the budget committee to block federal funding to the commission if lawmakers opposed how it planned to spend it.
That bill also would have let lawmakers from each political party select attorneys for the commissioners. Now, the commission of three Republicans and three Democrats are given nonpartisan attorneys.
Another bill Evers blocked would have banned election officials from accepting grants from private entities to help them run their elections.
The measure was aimed at preventing Wisconsin communities from receiving help from groups like the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which provided more than $10 million to more than 200 Wisconsin municipalities in 2020. The grants were financed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.
Republicans have called the grants inappropriate because the bulk of the money went to the state's five most populous cities, which have large blocs of Democratic voters.
That bill also would have put new rules in place for voting at nursing homes during health emergencies.
State law directs election clerks to send poll workers known as special voting deputies to care facilities to help residents with voting. Elections officials determined that practice wasn’t feasible during the coronavirus pandemic because nursing homes weren’t allowing visitors. They told clerks to immediately mail residents absentee ballots instead of trying to visit them first.
Few complained at the time, but after the presidential election Republicans attacked the Elections Commission for telling clerks to skirt the law for voting at nursing homes.
The legislation Evers vetoed would have allowed nursing home workers to assist with voting during a pandemic if special voting deputies could not visit the facilities.
Veto blocks change for confined voters
Evers vetoed legislation that would have changed the rules for voting absentee for voters who are indefinitely confined to their homes because of age, illness or disability.
Such voters under a long-standing law do not have to show a photo ID to receive absentee ballots, as other voters must. The number of confined voters more than tripled during the pandemic, leading to an outcry from Republicans who contend some voters misused the law.
The legislation would have required most confined voters to provide a copy of an ID or the number on their state ID or driver's license. Those who didn't have an ID could have provided the last four digits of their Social Security number and a signed statement from another U.S. citizen affirming their identity.
The approach won the backing of Disability Rights Wisconsin and other groups that represent the disabled. The groups said the bill did not include everything they wanted but believed it included important protections for vulnerable voters.
Other bills vetoed by Evers would have: required the state to conduct checks to ensure those on the voter rolls are United States citizens; required most voters to provide a copy of a photo ID every time they request an absentee ballot (instead of just the first time); and required election officials to label voters as ineligible to vote if the information on the voter rolls did not match their driver's licenses.
Other vetoed bills would have given a legislative committee a greater say in the guidance the Elections Commission gives to local officials and required courts to alert election officials when people called to jury duty reported that they are not U.S. citizens.
Other vetoes Evers issued Friday halted legislation that would have barred school officials from requiring masks in classrooms and required employers to accept a past COVID-19 infection to meet vaccine workplace rules.
Evers also vetoed bills that would have directed the governor on how to spend a portion of the billions of dollars in federal funding flowing to Wisconsin to help deal with the pandemic. Evers and Republican lawmakers have battled since 2020 over how to spend the COVID-19 relief dollars that Evers has sole authority to spend. Evers said in veto messages that he has already earmarked much of the money.
A bill that would have banned local officials from barring law enforcement from using no-knock warrants also was vetoed by Evers, in addition to legislation that would have allowed Wisconsin residents who have a permit to carry a concealed weapon to have firearms in their vehicles while on school grounds.
Molly Beck of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.