Democrats Gain a Little More Power on WI Elections Commission
Marcia McCoy drops her ballot into a box outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, Tuesday, April 28, 2020, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Dems, GOP members are also a million voters apart on whether to send out absentee ballots applications

Wisconsin Election Commission members on Wednesday agreed that state voters should receive more absentee ballots for elections later this year, but the 3 Democratic and 3 Republican commissioners are literally a million voters apart on deciding how many people should receive them. 

The three Democrats on the commission said they want to send ballot request forms to about 2.7 million people, most of Wisconsin’s registered voters. 

But Dean Knudson, the Republican chairman of the commission, balked at sending applications to residents who previously voted by absentee ballot or who live in communities already planning to mail ballot forms to their residents. His proposal would include sending ballots to about 1.7 million voters. 

The six-member commission, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, was deadlocked on the issue and scheduled a special meeting next week to take it up.

Election Commission staff members proposed a plan that would send absentee ballot request forms to a majority of registered voters, who would access information about requesting absentee ballots online at myvote.wi.gov. They also would get a paper form they could mail with a copy of a photo ID to receive an absentee ballot.  

Previous to their vote, the commission heard a report by WEC staff about problems with the April 7 election in which many Wisconsin voters reported not receiving the absentee ballots they had requested, forcing them to vote and risk contracting COVID-19 or stay home and give up voting. That followed a record 1 million people voting by mail, most because of concerns about the virus. 

Election Commission members said they must address the absentee voting process before the August primary vote and the November presidential election, when as many as 1.8 million people are expected to vote absentee. 

Despite differences between Republicans and Democrats on the commission, Knudson said he is optimistic the two sides can reach an agreement. 

“We’ll come together on it. I’m pretty sure we will,” he said.

The commission also was unable to agree on how to spend $7.3 million in federal CARES Act funding designated to assist with elections for the remainder of this year. 

The recommendation from Election Commission staff included spending $2.6 million on getting absentee ballots to voters, but Knudson proposed upping that figure to $3.4 million, giving local election clerks additional resources and more say about how that money is spent.  

“I think our clerks would like to know what’s coming as soon as possible,” he said.

But others on the commission objected, saying they weren’t ready to commit that funding without knowing the impact on the rest of CARES Act money and because of concerns it could add requirements for clerks to provide detailed accounts of how they spend those dollars.

“I want to see how we’re going to spend all of the money,” commission member Mark Thomsen said. “I want us to have adequate time to think through a whole plan.”

Knudson’s motion to alter funding failed on a 3-3 vote. Commission members did, however, unanimously agree to allocate $500,000 of CARES Act money for personal protective equipment for polling place workers at upcoming elections.