Wisconsin Public Radio

Elections Commission Deadlocks on Pandemic Guidance

Proposal would have reprimanded clerks in Dane and Milwaukee counties.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Mar 30th, 2020 09:57 am
Vote here ward(s) 246, 297, 298. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Vote here ward(s) 246, 297, 298. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission deadlocked Sunday afternoon over whether to reprimand Dane and Milwaukee county clerks over guidance they’ve issued to absentee voters amid the ongoing spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin.

The clerks have been advising voters confined during the virus’ spread to indicate they are “indefinitely confined” on their mail-in ballot applications. Selecting that option allows a voter to bypass a requirement to include a copy of an ID valid for voting, like a driver’s license, with their application.

The clerks have said their offices have been inundated with questions from some voters, particularly senior citizens, who have had trouble getting electronic or physical copies of their IDs during the pandemic.

Republicans have raised concerns with the guidance, saying the clerks are encouraging voters to apply the indefinite confinement option too broadly, as a means of skirting the state’s voter ID law. The Republican Party of Wisconsin filed a lawsuit against the clerks on Friday.

The clerks have defended their actions, saying they only believe voters who are truly confined by health concerns should utilize the option.

During Sunday’s meeting, the commission split along party lines over whether to “deliver a message” to the clerks that their advice is too broad. The commission was initially set to vote on launching investigations into the clerks, but that was walked back.

“I don’t believe we need to have an investigation into this matter,” Commissioner Bob Spindell said during the meeting.

Spindell, who was appointed to the commission by state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, was the first to raise the prospect of an investigation during a commission meeting on Friday.

“I think all we need to do is deliver the message to the (clerks) that your advice regarding indefinite confinement is wrong,” he said.

Commissioner Mark Thomsen, who was appointed to the body by Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, chastised the commission for even coming close to considering an investigation.

“I don’t think we should stain this institution’s reputation wasting time on saying we’re going to criticize two clerks that are doing their best in the crisis,” Thomsen said. “It makes us look so small.”

Thomsen said approving an investigation would amount to advancing the GOP court case against the clerks. He said the commission should stay out of political conflicts.

The commission voted 3-3 on sending the reprimanding message to the clerks, with Republican-appointed commissioners voting yes and Democratic-appointed commissioners voting no. That means no action will be taken.

Elections Agency Deadlocks On Plan To Chastise Clerks’ Pandemic Guidance was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

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