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Journal Times editorial: Election law reforms should serve voters
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Journal Times editorial: Election law reforms should serve voters

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After the turmoil, confusion and flurry of court fights before and after last fall’s presidential election it was to be expected that Wisconsin legislators would go back and look at state election laws.

That’s great.

Wisconsin needs some clarity on rules governing elections as demonstrated by the after-the-vote court suits that challenged voting practices because they weren’t specifically approved by the state Legislature and made into law.

Last week state Republicans rolled out another six proposals for election law changes and those came on the heels of a couple others that had previously been rolled out.

Some of the proposals are sorely needed; others deal with a little impromptu foolishness in the last election. In that last category, we would put the GOP proposal to ban election officials from collecting ballots in a park — as Madison did last fall. Frankly, we don’t see the need to collect absentee ballots in a park and chalked it up as just another example of Mad City’s zaniness. Yes, election clerks have long had special voting deputies who go to nursing homes to help voters and collect ballots, but those voters are often not capable of doing that themselves or getting to the polls. And there are those who have concerns about the security of ballots collected in parks or elsewhere. Park voting is simply not needed.

So what’s important? Top on our list would be the GOP proposal to allow municipalities to begin opening absentee ballots and begin counting them – but not announcing tabulations until the polls are closed – on the day before the election.

That would give beleaguered clerks and election volunteers more time to process absentee ballots and fully vet them and avoid the last-minute 4 a.m. “ballot dumps” when those votes were finally processed. It would end charges that those votes were somehow “found” or manufactured in the wee hours of the morning.

The GOP proposals would also stop clerks from “curing” absentee ballots, by filling in missing information — like the full address of a witness — on the certification envelope containing an absentee ballot. We don’t know why this is a source of contention or how widespread the issue is, but it is likely that policies vary from district to district, from clerk to clerk. The procedure should be uniform across the state. It seems to us that instead of having clerks “cure” minor errors on the envelope, this could easily be remedied by returning the envelopes to the voter, having them add the correct information and returning it within two weeks of Election Day and then tabulating it.

The sore point over whether an absentee ballot could be counted if it was postmarked by Election Day and how many days after the election it had to be received is, thankfully, resolved by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Scratch that one from the to-do list.

The spate of other GOP proposals can probably be sorted out. At first blush, we don’t really care about banning election drop boxes, except for one at a municipal building; we think it’s foolish to require a separate piece of paper to request an absentee ballot, particularly when the voter is standing right there in front of the clerk, I.D in hand; we frown on the legislation to prevent private donors from making donations to municipalities to use in helping run their elections more smoothly; and we’re OK with the proposal to have “uniform and non-discriminatory access to all stages of the election process.”

As the Legislature and Gov. Tony Evers move ahead with this election law overhaul we would urge them to keep this in mind: voting by mail or in-person absentee voting is not just a one-time blip because of the COVID pandemic. Close to 2 million Wisconsin voters voted by absentee or early balloting — 60% of the vote. After trying it, we’re sure they’ll prefer that to standing outside in a line to get into the polls on a cold November day — as has happened in recent memory. That’s probably the biggest form of voter suppression — dissuading voters from casting a vote.

The goal here should not be trying to gain some political advantage, but to help eligible voters cast their ballots easily, without unnecessary roadblocks in a process that is open, honest and secure — and without charges that an election was stolen.

Give us those laws.

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