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Ballot questions will let Wisconsin voters decide on election grants, poll workers

Posted at 8:16 AM, Mar 19, 2024

MADISON — Voters in Wisconsin’s presidential primary next month will also have a chance to weigh in on how elections are run.

Two state constitutional amendments appear on the bottom of the April 2 ballot, asking voters whether they believe election officials should be able to receive privately funded grants and whether only elections officials designated by law should be allowed to administer an election.

Private grants

The first question stems from false claims that billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg used election grants to tip the balance of the 2020 presidential race in favor of President Joe Biden. Zuckerberg donated $350 million which was distributed to election offices across the country. More than 200 Wisconsin municipalities received about $10 million of that money.

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A large majority of the money distributed in Wisconsin went to the state’s five largest cities — including Milwaukee and Green Bay — which are traditionally Democratic strongholds. Republicans alleged that the grants were used as bribes or to boost Democratic turnout, but there is no evidence to support that. Elections offices used the funds to deal with the added costs of the COVID-19 pandemic. Records show that grant funds were spent on expenses including new voting machines, personal protective equipment, and additional absentee ballots.

Several lawsuits and a complaint to the Wisconsin Elections Commission over the grants have been rejected. A Dane County judge in June 2022 ruled that the grants were legal.

Still, mostly Republican lawmakers in 27 states have passed measures to ban or limit the use of private grants in election administration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers previously vetoed a bill that would have outlawed private election grants. Proposing the measure as a constitutional amendment gives conservatives another chance to see it enacted. Constitutional amendments must be passed in two consecutive legislative sessions and then ratified by a majority of voters in a statewide election. Evers cannot veto a constitutional amendment.

Poll worker eligibility

The second question on the ballot is the result of controversy over a consultant hired by Green Bay elections officials in 2020. Conservatives have claimed that Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein, who worked for the National Vote at Home Institute, was given improper access to election facilities and ballots. However, city officials have rebutted those claims, saying in a report that Spitzer-Rubenstein had “no decision-making authority” and “never assisted with any matters involving actual ballots.”

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The Legislature’s own nonpartisan attorneys have said they’re unsure how the second ballot question will change state law, if at all, since statutes already say that only election officials designated by state law can administer elections.