MADISON – The state Elections Commission told clerks Friday to mail absentee ballots to nursing homes instead of hand delivering them and assisting residents with voting.
The decision continues guidance the commission put in place for elections last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
State law requires municipal clerks to dispatch what are known as special voting deputies to nursing homes to help residents vote. After sending the deputies twice, the clerks can mail ballots to any residents who haven’t yet voted.
But because of COVID-19, nursing homes aren’t allowing the deputies into their facilities because they aren’t essential personnel.
The commission voted 5-1 to advise clerks to mail ballots to nursing home residents rather than sending special voting deputies. Dissenting was Commissioner Robert Spindell, who said he thought deputies could safely be sent to nursing homes if they were tested and wore face shields.
Spindell said he was concerned about “dumping” large numbers of ballots at nursing homes.
Commissioner Mark Thomsen said there have been no credible allegations of voting fraud at nursing homes.
“What we did in 2020 saved lives,” Thomsen said of the policy on nursing homes.
Commission Chairwoman Ann Jacobs said the commission has been telling clerks to immediately send absentee ballots to nursing home residents because it would be absurd to send deputies to facilities they cannot enter. Following the procedure required by law would delay getting ballots to residents, she said.
Commissioner Dean Knudson said he agreed the best policy is to send ballots right away. But he expressed reservations about the advice because the law in question is clear.
“We will be essentially telling the clerks to break the law,” Knudson said before the vote.
The latest guidance applies to the Feb. 16 primary for state schools superintendent and local offices.
The commission will revisit the issue before the April 6 general election. The commissioners’ views could change if vaccines have been widely distributed in nursing homes by then.
Ballot set for Senate special election
Also Friday, the commission placed six candidates on the ballot in a special election for state Senate, including former state Rep. Don Pridemore.
The commission unanimously threw out a complaint against Pridemore that claimed he had listed the wrong address on his campaign paperwork.
Pridemore, a Republican, wrote on his nomination papers that his voting address is the same as that of Hartford Mayor Tim Michalak. Michalak told the Journal Sentinel this week that Pridemore is selling his home in Erin to his son and will live with Michalak until he builds a new home.
Other Republicans running for the state Senate seat are Andrew Dickmann of Juneau, Todd Menzel of Columbus and John Jagler, a state representative from Watertown. They will face one another in the Feb. 16 primary.
The primary winner will advance to the April 6 general election and go up against Democrat Melissa Winker of Oconomowoc; Ben Schmitz of Sun Prairie, who lists himself as a member of the anti-abortion American Solidarity Party; and Spencer Zimmerman of Janesville, a perennial candidate who does not live in the district and lists himself as a “Trump conservative.”
The special election is being held to fill the seat that Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau gave up when he was sworn into Congress this month.
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.