MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin's Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who is up for reelection in November, on Friday vetoed a package of bills passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature that would have made a series of changes to the battleground state's election laws.
Republicans who fast-tracked the bills don't have the votes to override his vetoes. The bills are part of a nationwide Republican effort to reshape elections following President Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump.
The bills were quickly passed earlier this year amid Trump's insistence that the 2020 election was stolen from him and that there was widespread fraud, despite no evidence to back up his claims. Courts, recounts, independent audits and partisan reviews have all upheld President Joe Biden's nearly 21,000-vote victory.
In vetoing the eight bills, Evers told lawmakers that “The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy; it should not be subject to the whim of politicians who do not like the outcome of an election.”
Evers said the vetoed bills were “passed under the guise of needing to reform our election system because elected officials in this state have enabled disinformation about our elections and elections process.”
Republican Sen. Alberta Darling defended the measures, saying “It’s clear the governor didn’t even bother to read these bills and wants to lump any election reform as a conspiracy theory."
Republican supporters argued that the changes were intendent to address deficiencies identified in an audit by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau and a review done by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. But the vetoed bills went far beyond those recommendations and would have changed how votes are cast and elections are run in Wisconsin.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has rebuffed calls from Trump and some Republican lawmakers to decertify Biden's win, had said the bills were about fixing problems for future elections, not relitigating the past.
Vos, who met with Trump, ordered a taxpayer-funded investigation into the election that is ongoing led by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman. The investigation has been mired in lawsuits challenging the legality of subpoenas Gableman filed with mayors of the state’s largest and most Democratic cities.
The court fight is expected to go into July and perhaps longer. Gableman's current contract runs through the end of April. Gableman, on a podcast hosted by former Trump Chief of Staff Steve Bannon, asked fans to call Vos to pressure him to change his mind about picking up Gableman's office equipment on April 26.
Vos floated the possibility of rescinding the subpoenas he signed for Gableman, a move that would effectively end the official investigation.
The bills Evers vetoed would have:
— Prohibited anyone other than the voter, an immediate family member or a legal guardian from returning an absentee ballot. That issue is currently pending before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, with oral arguments scheduled for next week.
— Barred the spending of private money on the administration of elections. Republicans have cried foul over $8.8 million in grants Wisconsin’s largest and most Democratic cities received in 2020 from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a group funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Grants were also awarded to smaller, majority Republican cities.
Republicans are trying to get around the veto by putting the ban in the state constitution. That would require approval by voters as early as next year.
— Bar election clerks from filling in any missing information on a voter’s absentee ballot envelope. Trump had argued that thousands of ballots where clerks filled in missing information on the outside envelope should be discounted, but courts rejected his argument. The bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission had advised clerks for years that filling in the missing information was OK.
— Require the bipartisan elections commission to hire Republican and Democratic-aligned attorneys to work with commission members and offer what would likely be contrary legal advice. Nonpartisan attorneys currently work for the commission.
— Give the Legislature control over guidance delivered to local election clerks by the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission.
— Limit who can identify as indefinitely confined, a status that allows for absentee ballots for those who can’t get to the polls due to age, illness or disability.
— Require the state to conduct checks to ensure that registered voters are United States citizens.