By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans who control the Wisconsin Senate moved on Wednesday to change state elections in response largely to false claims that the November election was tainted, passing bills that would make interfering with election observers a crime and barring polling officials from accepting private grants to aid with administration.
The proposals are part of a larger package of GOP-authored measures dealing with issues former President Donald Trump and his supporters raised following Joe Biden’s narrow win in the battleground state. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who has complained about Republican attempts to make absentee voting more difficult, is almost certain to veto every one of them.
The bills the Senate passed Wednesday don’t make major changes to the absentee voting system. That legislation, which includes limiting access to drop boxes, has yet to come to the floor in the Senate or Assembly.
The most prominent bill the Senate took up addresses Trump supporters’ claims that they weren’t given close enough access to watch Wisconsin’s presidential recount. Under the bill, observers would have to stand within 3 feet of tabulators during a recount. Any election official who intentionally obstructs an observer’s access would be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months behind bars and a $1,000 fine.
Democrats complained that the bill would allow observers to intimidate tabulators by literally hanging over their shoulders and create fear among tabulators that if they ask an observer for space they’ll be thrown in jail.
“This is partisan nonsense,” Sen. Lena Taylor of Milwaukee said.
Republicans countered that observers are a key part of the election process and deserve respect.
“That’s the objective of this bill, so people can see and hear,” Sen. Kathleen Bernier of Chippewa Falls said. “The law has been silent in regards of workers treating observers as if they’re criminals.”
The Senate ultimately passed the bill 20-11. No Democrats voted for it.
Another key proposal up on Wednesday was a bill that would prevent the state elections commission and local governments from applying for or accepting private grants to aid election administration.
Republicans have accused Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich of handing over control of the November election to partisan Democrats funded by a grant from the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life. The nonprofit’s grants were funded by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife. The chamber passed the measure on a voice vote with no debate.
The Senate passed two other election-related bills. One would allow the state elections commission to order municipal clerks to follow state law and allow anyone who violates election law to be prosecuted in a county in the area covered by the office involved.
The chamber passed the elections commission bill on a voice vote and the prosecution bill 20-11.
All four bills now go the Assembly. Approval in that chamber would send the bills to Evers.
Sen. Tim Carpenter, a Milwaukee Democrat, said all the election changes stem from “the big lie” that Democrats stole the election from Trump.
“My concern now is things are getting a little crazy because some radical members feel the election was stolen,” he said. “Thank God that Gov. Evers is around so he can veto some of these bills.”