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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 9, 2023 | Back issues
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Wisconsin Republicans push through constitutional amendments targeting voter citizenship, private grants for elections

Voters will decide whether to ratify the amendments at the polls in April and November of next year.

MADISON, Wis. (CN) — Republicans in control of the Wisconsin Legislature forwarded resolutions on Thursday that, if approved by voters, would amend the state constitution to enshrine that only U.S. citizens can vote and ban private nongovernmental funding, equipment and manpower to conduct elections.

The pieces of legislation — known in the Republican-majority state Senate as Joint Resolutions 71 and 78 — were concurred in by party-line votes in the Republican-majority Assembly, with 60 Republicans in support and 34 and 35 Democrats in opposition to each measure, respectively. They passed the state Senate on Tuesday in party-line votes.

Both resolutions have been the subject of bills previously vetoed by Governor Tony Evers, who has rejected many similar bills as part of a consistent stand against any law making it harder to vote. But the governor, a Democrat, has no power to stop the constitutional amendments under state law.

Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer, a Racine Democrat, took note of this fact, saying that not only are the resolutions based on misinformation, but Republicans were turning to amending the state’s founding document to perform an end-run around Evers’ veto pen.

In Wisconsin, proposed constitutional amendments must pass two consecutive legislative sessions and get ratified by voters to take effect.

The resolution regarding private grants will be on the ballot in April, and the measure regarding the citizenship requirement for voting will be on the ballot in November.

The citizenship resolution essentially takes existing constitutional language saying every U.S. citizen can vote, crosses out “every” and adds “only.” State law already clarifies that U.S. citizens are eligible electors, though the statute in part uses the “every” construction.

In defense of the citizenship resolution, Majority Leader Tyler August, a Republican from Lake Geneva, said the goal was “closing a loophole” to bar non-citizens from voting and eliminate the risk of their votes “cancelling out” the votes of citizens.

Private grants funding Wisconsin elections became a sticking point for Republicans after the 2020 presidential contest in which Donald Trump lost to Joe Biden. During that election, the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a group funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg and his wife Priscilla Chan, provided around $10 million to state municipalities to help conduct the election amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Though more than 200 municipalities received some money, more than $8 million of the funds went to Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Racine and Kenosha — the state’s five largest cities, all of them left-leaning Democratic strongholds in the politically-divided swing state.

Ever since, the concept of “Zuckerbucks” tainting the 2020 election has animated conservatives and conspiracy theorists, including a former state supreme court justice who conducted a controversial review of the 2020 contest at the behest of Republicans that, including legal fees, cost taxpayers around $2.5 million and found no evidence of widespread voter fraud before he was fired by Republican leadership. Two other audits and numerous lawsuits also upheld the outcome of the 2020 election in the Badger State.

Though Republicans cried foul about the Center for Tech and Civic Life grants from the beginning, they survived a court challenge in which a circuit court judge in 2022 declared they were legal.

Representative Ty Bodden, a Republican from Hilbert, blasted the grants as an instance of “extreme partisan influences” coming into Wisconsin “with the intent to manipulate our elections.”

Republican Representative William Penterman of Columbus said such grants are wrong no matter which party benefits, offering the example of the NRA pumping millions of dollars into Wisconsin election administration, which he noted would surely outrage liberals and the media.

Also passed Thursday was another resolution to amend the state constitution to include Wisconsin’s voter ID regulations. The Senate passed this resolution on Tuesday as well, but both chambers have only done so for the first time, meaning it would have to pass again next session in order to go to voters.

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Categories / Government, Politics, Regional

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