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Bill Would Give WI Legislature Oversight of Election Funds

American at a polling booth
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The bill (SB 941) would also set new reporting categories for municipal clerks, including how many people voted absentee by mail, the total number of voters who cast ballots at the polling place and the number of registered voters in a municipality on Election Day.

Wisconsin's Republican lawmakers are backing a series of bills to set new election administration policies, one of which would give a Republican-controlled committee oversight of election funds.

The measure would require any plans for federal election money to get approval from the Legislature's Finance Committee. Currently, the Wisconsin Elections Commission allocates those funds based on federal guidance.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu - R-Oostburg - the bill's lead sponsor, said the bill would ensure the state maintains control of election administration.

"SB 941 ensures the people of Wisconsin, through their elected representatives," said LeMahieu, "can review, amend or block any efforts by the Executive Branch of the federal government to interfere with Wisconsin elections administration."

But the bill is opposed by Democrats and several voting-rights groups, who argue it would give Republicans too much control over elections.

It would likely be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, but the proposal indicates the direction GOP lawmakers could take should Evers lose his re-election bid this November.

The bill also would require state agencies to submit new federal election guidance to legislative leadership, and would bar those agencies from implementing the policies until they receive the go-ahead from a legislative rules committee.

Matt Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, questioned the legality of the bill in a committee hearing Monday.

"States aren't generally allowed to disregard federal guidance on the conduct of federal elections, for instance," said Rothschild. "And if you want to have one rule for federal elections and one rule for state elections, that's going to create a whole bunch of cumbersome-ness for the clerks."

A separate measure would bar private funding for election administration.

That resolution is in response to grants provided to Wisconsin's largest cities, including liberal strongholds Milwaukee and Madison, by the Center for Tech and Civic Life in 2020.

One of the center's major funders is Mark Zuckerberg, although the organization is unrelated to Facebook.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Jonah Chester is Wisconsin Public Radio's 2022-2023 Mike Simonson Memorial Investigative Reporting Fellow embedded in the Wisconsin Watch newsroom. He most recently worked at Public News Service, a national radio news service, where he covered Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. He previously produced the 6 O'Clock News at WORT 89.9 FM in Madison, where he won numerous awards from the Milwaukee Press Club and Wisconsin Broadcasters Association for his reporting on issues in Dane County and south-central Wisconsin.
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