Republicans in Wisconsin have tried to enact several voter suppression policies in recent years.
In a 2023-25 draft budget released on Feb. 13, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) is proposing over $2.9 million be allocated to protect voting rights and make voter participation easier in the state, the website WisPolitics reported. Evers' proposal follows years of attempts by lawmakers to suppress the vote in the state.
"Even as some politicians continue their efforts to undermine our safe, secure elections, restrict access to the ballot box, and control the outcomes of our elections, I have and will continue to defend and support the right to vote, our clerks, poll workers, and election administrators, and the opportunity to participate in our democracy," Evers said in a statement.
Evers' budget calls for allocating $521,700 to the Wisconsin Elections Commission and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to establish automatic voter registration in the state. Under automatic registration, citizens are added to voter rolls when they interact with government agencies, usually in the process of obtaining a driver's license. Twenty-two states and Washington, D.C., currently have automatic voter registration policies in place.
The proposal allocates $400,000 to be used by Wisconsin municipalities to purchase copies of the state's electronic voter lists, called "Badger Books." The lists would be used to allow election clerks to record absentee votes, process voter registrations on Election Day, and check voters in at polling places.
Evers' proposal also calls for the restoration of Wisconsin state laws that would require public high schools and allow private and tribal high schools to offer voter registration for eligible students and staff. It also calls for the elimination of waiting periods for in-person absentee ballots.
The budget would allocate $2 million to create an Office of Election Transparency and Compliance, allowing faster response times to complaints about possible election law violations.
After the budget is submitted to the Legislature, it will be considered and modified by the Assembly and the Senate, with votes traditionally held in June. Republicans hold the majority in both chambers of the Legislature.
In 2022, the Legislature rushed the passage of a series of bills that would have added restrictions to the state's election laws. They were pushed through with potential co-sponsors given only one day to sign on after the laws were introduced on Feb. 1 and voted on before the close of the legislative session in March of that year. The laws were intended to change state election procedures as former President Donald Trump continued to make false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen after he lost nationally and in Wisconsin to President Joe Biden.
Evers vetoed the bills on April 8, 2022, stating, "The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy; it should not be subject to the whim of politicians who do not like the outcome of an election."
Audio recordings made in 2020 and released on Feb. 3 catch Andrew Iverson, the head of Trump's campaign team in Wisconsin, acknowledging that the team intended to "fan the flame and get the word out about Democrats trying to steal this election." The recordings also catch Republican operatives joking about lackluster Republican outreach to Black voters. Trump lost the Black vote in Wisconsin to Biden by a margin of 73%-25%.
Efforts to restrict voting in Wisconsin are continuing. In December, the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty sued the Wisconsin Elections Commission and the city clerk of Racine, challenging the commission's dismissal of an earlier complaint against the city's use of alternate absentee voting sites and mobile voting locations, or "election vans."
The Democratic National Committee announced on Feb. 13 that it would challenge the suit. DNC States Communications Director Brooke Goren described it as "yet another attempt by conservative groups in Wisconsin to make it harder for eligible voters to cast their ballots."
Wisconsin has been a key "battleground" state in which neither Republicans nor Democrats have completely dominated statewide elections. Former President Barack Obama won the state in 2008 and 2012, while Trump won in 2016 and Biden won in 2020. Evers was reelected in 2022, but so was Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.
Wisconsin was the first state Biden visited after delivering his State of the Union address on Feb. 7.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.