Wisconsin Senate approves three Republican-backed elections amendments to the state constitution

A trio of state constitutional amendment proposals would enshrine Wisconsin's photo ID rules, outlaw private grants for elections administration and prohibit noncitizens from voting in state and local elections.

Associated Press

November 7, 2023

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A voter fills out a ballot while standing and facing a voting booth with plastic privacy walls and metal legs, arranged in a row of similar booths in a room with a stage curtain on one side and a blank wall in the background.

A voter fills out their ballot at a polling place on Feb. 21, 2023, in Milwaukee. On Nov. 7, the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Senate passed three proposed state constitutional amendments that would change elections administration in the state. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

AP News

By Harm Verhuizen, AP/Report for America

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Senate voted Nov. 7 to approve three proposed amendments to the state constitution addressing conservative concerns about elections administration.

The proposed legislation would outlaw private funding for elections administration, enshrine existing voter photo ID requirements in the state constitution and specify that only U.S. citizens are eligible to vote in state and local elections.

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.

Earlier in 2023, Wisconsin voters passed a GOP-backed constitutional amendment to make it harder for people to get out of jail bail before trial.

The Nov. 7 votes along party lines were the Senate’s second round of approval for the proposals to outlaw private elections funding and specify that only U.S. citizens can vote in local elections. GOP leaders have said they plan to put those amendments before voters in the statewide April and November 2024 elections, respectively.

The Assembly was scheduled to vote Nov. 9 on all three amendments advanced by the Senate.

Conservatives were outraged in 2020 by a nonprofit that distributed hundreds of millions of dollars in grants, mostly funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, to local election offices. Opponents termed the money “Zuckerbucks” and claimed it was an attempt by the billionaire to tip the vote in favor of Democrats, although there was no evidence to support that. Since 2020, GOP lawmakers in at least 20 states have responded by outlawing private elections grants.

There has also been a recent push for states to specifically make clear that only U.S. 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 U.S. citizenship to vote in national elections, and no state constitutions explicitly allow noncitizens to vote in state or local elections.

The Wisconsin Constitution says that every U.S. citizen age 18 and over is a qualified elector, but it does not specifically say that only U.S. citizens are qualified to vote in state or local elections.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court flipped to liberal control earlier in 2023. The state’s voter ID requirement, enacted in 2011, is one of the strictest in the country. There is no current legal challenge to the law, but other election-related lawsuits are likely to end up before the Supreme Court.

Supporters of photo ID requirements say they ensure that only qualified voters are able to cast ballots, but opponents argue that the requirements make it more difficult for people to vote, especially the elderly, those with disabilities and those without driver’s licenses.

Harm Venhuizen is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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