MADISON – A Republican lawmaker is warning state election officials they have improperly handled voting at nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic.
Since the pandemic began, the state Elections Commission has told local officials to mail absentee ballots to nursing homes instead of delivering them by hand and assisting residents with voting.
Commissioners have said that approach was necessary because many nursing homes aren’t allowing visitors.
But Republican Sen. Steve Nass of Whitewater said Wednesday the bipartisan commission doesn’t have the power to give its advice to clerks. He released a memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Council that noted state law requires clerks to try to visit nursing homes twice before they can mail ballots to them.
“The (commission) has been issuing directives it has no authority to under the law,” Nass said in a statement.
Nass is the co-chairman of the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules. He said the panel will meet Thursday to try to stop it from telling local officials to refrain from visiting nursing homes.
The Elections Commission plans to revisit the issue on March 2. Commissioners will have a chance to discuss any action by Nass’ committee at that meeting, commission spokesman Reid Magney said.
The commission last month voted 5-1 to tell clerks to mail ballots to nursing homes for Tuesday’s primary in the election for state schools superintendent, just as it had for elections in 2020.
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.
The commission has been telling clerks to mail ballots to the nursing homes without first visiting the facilities because they aren’t allowing visitors in many cases. Mailing ballots right away ensures they get to residents faster, giving them enough time to vote, commissioners have argued.
But some commissioners have expressed reservations about the approach.
Dean Knudson, a Republican who sits on the commission, voted last month to tell clerks to mail ballots to nursing homes, but added at the time, “We will be essentially telling the clerks to break the law.”
Action by Nass’ committee would be unlikely to affect Tuesday’s primary because ballots have already been sent. But a change in policy would affect the April 6 general election.
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.