Disability rights advocates back amended indefinitely confined voter bill, seek further changes

Jennifer E. Engen

Nearly two dozen groups have signaled support for an amended bill to overhaul the state’s indefinitely confined voter law, especially if another change is added on the Senate floor today.

Gov. Tony Evers is expected to veto the bulk of the election-related bills Republicans plan to take up in the closing weeks of the session. The offer of support from groups such as Disability Rights Wisconsin and the League of Women Voters for SB 937 is a sign that some are pushing Dems to get on board with at least one of the bills Republicans plan to take up.

The groups wrote in the letter the proposed amendment, which the Senate can consider on the floor today, would match the definition of disability to language used by the Social Security Administration.

“Ultimately, we support this bill because it is critically important to maintain this vital protection for indefinitely confined voters,” the groups wrote. “While not all of the changes we supported were included, the bill was amended to address the most serious concerns advocates raised at the hearing.”

Under current law, those who are indefinitely confined due to age, illness or infirmary can receive an absentee ballot automatically for every election and don’t have to provide proof of identification to cast their votes. Indefinitely confined voters must return their absentee ballots in every election or local clerks would stop sending them until the status is declared again.

The bill would change who’s eligible to claim the status to those who are indefinitely confined and can’t travel independently without significant burden. It also would drop age as a criterion for eligibility.

Voters seeking to declare the status would have to apply through a form prescribed by the state Elections Commission.

The bill was already amended in committee to change the application process for those seeking the status, but don’t have a photo ID. For example, instead of providing a witness affirmation that they’re indefinitely confined, the amendment would require a witness to attest to the voter’s identity.

Also, those with a photo ID would have the option to provide their name, date of birth, and a driver’s license or state ID card number for verification rather than a copy of the card.

Another amendment co-author Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, introduced on Friday would further tweak the language for someone who qualifies as indefinitely confined. Rather than stating the disability will last for at least a year, the amendment would change that to is expected to last “at least” one year.

That’s the proposed change that would match language used by the Social Security Administration.

The use of the indefinitely confined voting status ticked up significantly for the November 2020 election along with the use of absentee ballots in general. Republicans raised concerns that those claiming the status may have misused it because those voters aren’t required to submit a copy of their photo ID with their absentee ballot.

According to the Elections Commission, 265,979 people claimed the indefinitely confined status for the November 2020 election as nearly 2 million absentee ballots were cast. In the November 2016 election, 66,611 claimed the status as 819,316 absentee ballots were cast.

The commission noted nearly 80 percent of those who claimed the status for the November 2020 election had previously presented proof of voter ID.

Former President Trump sought to challenge the votes of those who claimed the status in heavily Dem Dane and Milwaukee counties, but the attempt was rejected.

Read the letter here.

Disability rights advocates back amended indefinitely confined voter bill, seek further changes

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