The state Elections Commission is punting on a proposal that would mail some registered voters an absentee ballot request.
That’s one of three proposals to spend dollars allocated by a federal coronavirus relief for election-related expenses that the commission pushed to a meeting next week. The move came after GOP Chair Dean Knudson proposed a number of changes to staff recommendations.
The former Republican lawmaker’s proposal at last night’s meeting sought to send absentee ballot request forms to registered voters who have not voted absentee in the past. The original proposal from commission staff would have mailed forms to the roughly 2.7 million voters who did not currently have an absentee ballot request on file.
Knudson reasoned those who had previously voted absentee already had a photo ID on file with their municipal clerk and were familiar enough with the process to request a ballot without help. Commission staff indicated during the meeting some 1.1 million registered voters had an ID on file.
Knudson also proposed excluding from the mailing those who live in municipalities where the clerk intended to send the request form to voters.
Dems Mark Thomsen and Ann Jacobs indicated they would likely support the move but said they want time to allow staff to analyze the changes Knudson proposed to both the ballot request measure and another proposal to send clerks money to offset mailing costs. Thomsen originally moved the commission take up the plan as designed by staff, but the panel deadlocked 3-3 along party lines on that motion.
Commissioners moved to table discussion about those two items — as well as a third to redesign absentee envelopes that Jacobs said she had “huge concerns about” — until next Wednesday.
At least five of the commission’s six members indicated they would support the concept of sending absentee ballot request forms to voters.
That comes after President Trump yesterday slammed a similar move in Michigan as being “done illegally.” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, also released a statement yesterday saying it “does not make sense to centralize absentee voting in Madison when that funding could be better utilized by the clerks themselves.”
Knudson said he was “pretty sure” the panel would “come together on” the proposal next week.
“I think we’ve got consensus, bipartisan consensus on what we’re doing,” he said.
Republican Bob Spindell, appointed by Fitzgerald to the panel last year, also indicated he supported the concept. Later in the meeting, he said a group of eligible but unregistered voters “probably would be part of the group that we would send the absentee ballot applications to.”
The commission approved one staff recommendation for CARES Act funding, moving unanimously to release $500,000 to buy sanitation supplies for election sites.
The panel also approved releasing a report on absentee voting, but not without dividing along party lines first.
Commissioners split 3-3 on including information about the number of voters who registered as indefinitely confined. That status allows voters to bypass the photo ID requirement when requesting an absentee ballot.
Data pulled by staff at Spindell’s request indicated as of now, some 199,000 voters indicated they hold that status. That’s up from about 70,000 requests on file last year and 55,000 requests on file four years ago.
Spindell argued the information was vital to the report but Dems, led by Julie Glancey, said they didn’t feel it was germane.
“It doesn’t really matter what reason you put down or whether you checked you are indefinitely confined as to whether or not your ballot came back or was issued and not returned or returned late, which is kind of what this report is talking about,” Glancey said.
The commission also voted 4-2 on releasing the final report to the Legislature and governor’s office.
Thomsen and Jacobs voted against releasing the report. They argued it was misleading because it contained a statistic showing the absentee ballot rejection rate was on par with previous elections. The two Dems said an additional 79,000 ballots would have been rejected if not for a court ruling extending the deadline for absentee ballots to be received. If not for the ruling by U.S. Judge William Conley, they said, the rate would have been inflated beyond where it stood in past years.
Still, Glancey joined the panel’s GOP members in voting to release the report after briefly pushing for a note to be made in the report about the court decision.