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WI elections administrator: Feds need to help bolster voting infrastructure

A man votes in the 2022 midterm election
Bill Pugliano
Getty Images
A man votes in the 2022 midterm election

Americans are preparing to vote this year in what's described as a "high-stakes" presidential election.

But those who oversee the voting process, including a Wisconsin official, say lack of federal support is straining their operations.

The City of Madison has been recognized by policy experts for holding safe and secure elections during the pandemic.

But City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl said budget constraints can make it a difficult balancing act.

She said there's greater interest in absentee ballots, requiring more manpower and building space to process them. However, there's a key problem.

"The funding that we receive, from the state and from the federal government," said Witzel-Behl, "hasn't increased to accommodate any of that."

She said that puts more pressure on property taxes.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan coalition of state and local election officials estimates that offices around the country need at least $53 billion over a decade to repair and modernize election infrastructure.

There are specific requests in the current federal budget debate, but the House and Senate are at odds over how much to provide.

Sunwhoo Oh, senior associate for policy and political affairs with the progressive nonprofit group Stand Up America, said what's concerning is that whatever funding is set aside in the short term would still fall short of election officials' requests.

She said policymakers need to understand how pressing this matter is.

"So, we've been working to try to get more consistent and predictable funding from Congress," said Oh, "to help support local administrators to get the resources they need, and help modernize the election infrastructure that is super-outdated in most of the jurisdictions."

Oh said when voting machines need to be updated or replaced, there are delays and snags in the vote-counting process. But she stressed that doesn't mean election integrity is being compromised.

In one national poll, seven in 10 Americans said they believe the federal government should be just as responsible - if not more so - for election funding than local municipalities and states.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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