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Pending election bills would make WI Legislature more powerful and absentee voting more difficult

Shawn Johnson, WPR | Published on 2/9/2022

With roughly a month to go before they’re scheduled to adjourn their legislative session, GOP lawmakers are pushing a package of bills that would give themselves more power over elections and put up more obstacles for voting absentee.

Republicans would also ban some of the activities that took place in the 2020 election like private grants to help run elections and absentee ballot applications that were sent to millions of voters across Wisconsin.

Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, is the chair of a Senate election panel that heard hours of testimony Monday on the package of election proposals. She said the steps taken to safely administer elections during a pandemic need to be left in the past.

"During the pandemic, we had an extraordinary situation," Bernier said. "I think it's time to move on past that."

But those changes, critics argue, have a common thread: Most would either put more restrictions on the agency that runs elections or put up more barriers for voters.

Debra Cronmiller, executive director for the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, spoke against the bills.

"Some make it much harder for voters to apply for and cast an absentee ballot," Cronmiller said. "Some can only be characterized as a power grab by a legislative branch seeking to control elections. Given that none of these proposals would improve elections, they would be a net loss for voters."

The measures come as former President Donald Trump has pressured Republicans to change election laws, falsely asserting that he won swing states like Wisconsin two years ago. In Wisconsin, Assembly Republicans have commissioned an investigation of the 2020 election.

Bernier, a former clerk, has been among the most outspoken Republicans to push back on Trump, but she acknowledged Monday that some of her bills were drafted, in part, to address the concerns of people who don’t trust Wisconsin’s elections.

The GOP plans include some common themes.