One would ban local governments from receiving private funds to help administer elections—despite a lack of adequate funding by the Legislature. The other would restrict voting to citizens—something already apparent in the Wisconsin Constitution.
Voters next year will be asked two questions about amending the Wisconsin Constitution when it comes to voting and elections, as both measures were approved this week by the Assembly and Senate.
One would outlaw private funding for elections administration, something sought by many municipalities dealing with extremely tight budgets and often-constricted state aid. Republicans were specifically targeting a group called the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), which receives most of its funds from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife. In 2020, CTCL provided hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to municipalities of all sizes and partisan leanings—including 214 local governments in 39 Wisconsin counties, according to a report in the Wisconsin State Journal.
Local governments used the funds for poll worker training, pandemic safeguards, and new equipment such as voting machines and drop boxes.
Conservatives feigned outraged and termed the money “Zuckerbucks,” claiming the funds were an attempt by the billionaire to tip elections in favor of Democrats. Multiple court cases have found no merit to the allegations, but that hasn’t stopped GOP lawmakers in at least 20 states to outlaw private elections grants—with no sign they’ll make up the difference with improved state election aid to municipalities.
The other proposed amendment deals with voting eligibility. There has also been a recent push by Republicans for states to make clear that only US citizens can vote in state and local elections. Some cities and towns across the country have allowed noncitizens to vote in local elections. Federal law already requires US citizenship to vote in national elections. The Wisconsin Constitution says that every US citizen age 18 and over is a qualified elector. It does not specifically say that only US citizens are qualified to vote in state or local elections. The proposed amendment would say that only a United States citizen age 18 or older who resides in an election district may vote in an election for national, state, or local office or at a statewide or local referendum.
Republican lawmakers have increasingly turned to constitutional amendments as a way to work around Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. The governor can veto bills passed by the Legislature, but he cannot veto constitutional amendments, which must be approved by two consecutive sessions of the Legislature before going to voters in a statewide election for a final decision.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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