Try 1 month for 99¢
JFC Dems

Democrats on the Joint Finance Committee address reporters ahead of a hearing on legislation that would curtail early voting, strip the Attorney General of certain powers and change the state's Spring primary date. 

The Wisconsin Elections Commission on Monday said if a plan to alter next year's spring primary and narrow the window for early voting is enacted, it would be difficult for local clerks, but stopped short of offering an opinion on the plan directly.

Legislative Democrats, meanwhile, did not hold back Monday, calling the plans "unprecedented" and an abuse of power. 

The six-person elections commission, which is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, examined the proposal enshrined in Assembly Bill 1071, one of several that will be heard throughout a marathon Joint Finance Committee hearing Monday. The hearing, where the plans will be debated between lawmakers and the public, is the precursor to a full legislative vote, which could take place as early as Tuesday. 

Elections commissioners disagreed on how to frame or whether to officially state their thoughts on the bill, but largely agreed with what clerks statewide have said for weeks: the move would create a burden, possible unintended consequences and cost millions of dollars. 

The commission estimated moving the election could cost between $6.4 and $6.8 million though there could be other costs and challenges if the plans are signed into law. 

"There frankly has not been enough time for us to identify every single challenge that this legislation is going to produce," said Mike Haas, chief attorney for the commission. 

Commissioners largely agreed that the move would be on a spectrum somewhere between "impossible" and "difficult."

Other challenges outlined in a memo from interim Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe: 

  • Creating ballots, programming voting equipment.
  • Administering absentee voting for two elections simultaneously.
  • Abbreviating time periods for completing post-election tasks, including extraordinary session legislation, potential recounts, while preparing for the next election.
  • Ensuring adequate staffing and election inspectors to conduct three consecutive elections.

As commissioners deliberated Monday morning, Democrats on the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee addressed reporters, noting that the move to pass such sweeping changes to was "unprecedented"  and said they could sue over several provisions in the bills that strip power from the executive branch. 

As Madison as it gets: Get Cap Times' highlights sent daily to your inbox

"We think there is other infringements in the power of the executive that are going to be challenged. There are many many instances of it," said Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison. 

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said that Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos' comments that the plans were necessary to balance the power of government was "a lie."

 "It’s a power grab. They lost and they're throwing a fit," he said. "They are ignoring, disregarding the will of the people. Robin Vos did not run for governor, Scott Fitzgerald did not run for governor."

Lawmakers will likely reiterate those concerns Monday following a public hearing on the plans which is expected to take several hours. The JFC hearing room was packed as it was set to start and dozens of people were lined up to sign up to speak outside the doors. 

 

Katelyn Ferral is The Cap Times' public affairs and investigative reporter. She joined the paper in 2015 and previously covered the energy industry for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. She's also covered state politics and government in North Carolina.