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Who can work Wisconsin's elections? New restrictions won't affect much, attorney general says

FILE - Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul
Morry Gash
FILE - Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul

A new constitutional amendment restricting who can work on Wisconsin elections should have little practical effect, according to a legal opinion issued by Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul on Tuesday.

Wisconsin voters approved a constitutional amendment in April that says only lawfully designated election officials can perform any work on primaries, elections and referendums.

It's unclear how the amendment might change current practices beyond placing definitions about election officials, which are already in state law, into the constitution.

Dane County Corporation Counsel Carlos Pabellon asked Kaul weeks after the amendment was approved for a legal opinion on the definition of a lawful election official. Pabellon pointed out that parts of state law define them as special deputies who help nursing home residents vote, election inspectors and tabulators while other sections say they're anyone charged with any duties relating to an election.

He questioned whether county and municipal clerks and their staffs remain election officials under the amendment. He also asked whether third-party vendors such as ballot printers could work with election officials since the amendment states only lawfully-designated election officials can do any election work.

Kaul wrote that the amendment doesn't change the definition of a lawfully designated election official so the multiple definitions in state law remain viable. The amendment also doesn't negate state laws empowering clerks and other election officials to run elections, he said.

The attorney general went on to say that the amendment doesn't require election work to be performed only by election officials. Essentially, the amendment mandates that only lawfully designated election officials can control election administration, he wrote.

Kaul noted that Republican lawmakers drafted the amendment in reaction to grant money that came into Wisconsin in 2020 from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a liberal group that promotes voter access. That year the group received a $300 million donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife to help election officials buy supplies and run elections at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic

Wisconsin's five largest cities, which President Joe Biden went on to win, received $8.8 million, sparking outrage from Republicans. They accused Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich of ceding authority for running the election to a paid consultant who had worked on Democratic campaigns in the past. Green Bay city attorneys said the claims lacked merit.

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