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Republicans propose moving date of presidential primary, other changes
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LEGISLATURE ELECTIONS

Republicans propose moving date of presidential primary, other changes

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Spring election

Election workers Danyell Franz, left, and Jean Bawden verify voters as they prepare to cast ballots in the spring election at Rutland Town Hall. A Republican bill would move the date of Wisconsin's presidential primary to Super Tuesday in March instead of during April's spring election.

Republican lawmakers on Friday continued their rollout of legislation that would overhaul Wisconsin’s election process, announcing bills that, among other things, would move the date of Wisconsin’s presidential primary to Super Tuesday in March instead of during April’s spring election.

Another bill GOP lawmakers introduced would allow municipalities to begin counting absentee ballots the day before an election if they meet certain requirements, a fix that elections officials have previously called for as they dealt with a surge in absentee voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lake Mills' Vivian Guerrero takes a pass, drives along the free-throw lane and sinks the winning basket Thursday in the L-Cats' 55-54 victory at Prairie du Chien in a WIAA Division 3 sectional semifinal.

Yet another piece of legislation Republicans proposed Friday would give district attorneys broader jurisdiction over alleged election violations in order to resolve election law disputes more quickly.

The proposed legislation, which is very early in the legislative process, follows an extremely fraught presidential election in which former President Donald Trump made repeated unfounded claims questioning the integrity of the election, which has led to public distrust about the election result. Republican lawmakers cited such distrust as a reason for some of the legislation proposed Friday.

Moving back

The bill proposed by Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, and Sen. Rob Stafsholt, R-New Richmond, would move the Wisconsin presidential primary from the current first Tuesday in April, coinciding with the state’s April contest, to the first Tuesday in March, known as Super Tuesday, when 14 states conducted their presidential primaries in 2020.

Holding the presidential primary in March would mean Wisconsin would likely need to hold two statewide elections within roughly a month of each other, because races for state Supreme Court, as well as thousands of other local contests, happen in April. Previous estimates by the Wisconsin Elections Commission showed uncoupling the presidential primary from the April contest could cost an additional $7 million.

This isn’t the first time Republicans have floated the idea. During the lame-duck session in December 2018, after former Republican Gov. Scott Walker lost his reelection bid but before Democratic Gov. Tony Evers took office, Republicans briefly considered moving the presidential primary to March, but opted against it.

Moving the presidential primary could have aided the conservative nominee for state Supreme Court in 2020, Daniel Kelly. That’s because the presidential primary was anticipated to have higher participation among Democrats, whose race was contested, than for Republicans, who were mostly unified behind Trump.

The increased turnout among Democrats was likely a factor in liberal Justice Jill Karofsky’s win in April of last year over Kelly. Decoupling the presidential primary from the April election would mean future state Supreme Court and other races would no longer be directly affected by the fluctuations in turnout in presidential primaries every four years.

The next state Supreme Court race isn’t until 2023, a year before the presidential primary, and no justice is up for reelection in 2024.

Other bills

Another bill proposed by Stafsholt and Tauchen would allow municipalities to begin counting absentee ballots on the day before the election if they meet certain requirements. Under the bill, clerks still couldn’t run a final tabulation report until the canvass is complete or after the polls close on Election Day, whichever is later.

Several municipalities dealing with a surge in absentee ballots didn’t report their final presidential election results until the morning hours after Election Day in November because of the time it took to process them all. The extra time to process absentee ballots included in the bill could prevent such election night reporting delays in the future.

One other bill introduced by Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, and Rep. Rob Brooks, R-Saukville, would expand the jurisdiction district attorneys have over potential election violations.

Under current law, for election-related violations, a Wisconsin defendant is generally tried in circuit court for the county where the defendant resides, though the person may also petition the court to move the trial to the county where the offense was committed.

The proposed bill would allow a defendant in election-related disputes to be tried in any county within the area covered by any office on the ballot for the election that is affected by the defendant’s alleged conduct.

The bill would also allow people to bring claims for enforcement of election law directly to circuit court without first having to file a complaint with the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

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