Americans’ support for mail-in voting jumps amid safety concerns during the virus pandemic. As Ohio holds its virtually all-mail primary Tuesday, a new AP-NORC poll finds Dems more likely than the GOP to support elections exclusively by mail. (April 27) AP Domestic
MADISON – Wisconsin election officials inched toward sending absentee ballot request forms to voters, but they put off a decision after Republicans and Democrats split on how many people should get the ballot applications.
Democrats on the Wisconsin Elections Commission want to send the applications to about 2.7 million people, the vast majority of the state’s registered voters.
The Republican chairman agreed ballot applications should be sent out.
But he doesn’t want to send them to those who appear likely to have previously voted by mail or who live in communities that are already planning to mail absentee ballot forms to their residents. That would result in ballots going to 1.7 million or fewer people.
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The commission consists of three Republicans and three Democrats. It was unclear from Wednesday’s meeting if the commissioners could reach a deal on the issue when they meet again in about a week.
The commission is not considering the mass mailing of actual ballots. Rather, it is weighing sending applications that voters could fill out and return with a copy of a photo ID. Those voters would then be sent an absentee ballot.
The idea has come to the fore because of a surge in interest in mail voting amid the coronavirus outbreak. Health experts say absentee voting helps reduce the risk of the spread of the virus since many fewer people will be gathering in person.
Nearly 1 million people voted by mail in the April 7 election for state Supreme Court, far outstripping the previous record. Even more are expected to vote absentee for the presidential election in November.
The debate came hours after President Donald Trump threatened to withhold federal funding from Michigan for its decision to send absentee ballot applications to its voters.
“Michigan sends absentee ballot applications to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election,” the president tweeted. “This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!”
Scott Fitzgerald, the majority leader of the Wisconsin Senate and a candidate for Congress, came out against the idea here.
“It does not make sense to centralize absentee voting in Madison when that funding could be better utilized by the clerks themselves,” Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said in a statement ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.
Despite that GOP opposition, the Republican chairman of the commission, Dean Knudson, showed support for sending the applications to some voters. But he did not want them to go to as many voters as Democrats on the commission.
He said he saw hope that the two parties can reach a deal soon.
“We’re all on board with the concept,” Knudson said. “We’ll come together on it. I’m pretty sure we will.”
Their differences remain significant.
Democrats support a plan from the Election Commission staff that would send absentee ballot request forms to most registered voters.
The voters would receive information about the state’s online portal for requesting absentee ballots, myvote.wi.gov, as well as a paper copy of the form they could mail in along with a copy of their photo ID to get an absentee ballot.
Under the plan, the mailings would not go to those who already have absentee ballot requests on file. They also would not be sent to about 129,000 registered voters who are believed to have moved.
Knudson wants to exclude those same voters, as well as about 1 million who have a photo ID on file with their local clerk, which suggests they may have voted by mail previously. (State law requires voters to provide a copy of a photo ID the first time they vote by mail, but not other times they vote by mail.)
Knudson said he doesn’t want to send the applications to those voters because they should already be familiar with how to vote by mail and can request an absentee ballot if they want one.
Knudson also doesn’t want the state to send the forms to voters in communities that plan to do so on their own. Whitefish Bay and Bayside did that in April and Milwaukee is considering doing it this fall.
That’s meant to prevent two mailings from going out. But taking that approach would result in some municipalities having to pay for the mailings themselves while others would see it covered for them.
If the state commission does not act, each municipality on its own can decide whether to send the applications, as a handful of communities did in the April 7 election.
Meagan Wolfe, executive director of the commission, recommended sending the request forms to avoid voter confusion. If the state doesn’t send a mailing, numerous outside groups — including political parties — will, and some of them will give voters inaccurate information about how to vote absentee, she said.
“This is our opportunity to educate voters,” Wolfe said.
The plan backed by Democrats would cost $2.1 million. An estimate hasn’t been offered for Knudson’s idea, but it would be less expensive.
The commissioners’ plan would pay for the effort using a chunk of the $7.3 million Congress allocated to Wisconsin for increased election costs during the pandemic.
The commissioners are considering giving some of the federal funds to local governments to help them cover their higher costs. Democrats and Republicans couldn’t agree on how to structure those outlays and will address them later.
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.
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