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Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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A student votes in the Wisconsin primary elections at Memorial Union on April 2, 2024.

Wisconsin voters approve Republican-led referendums on private election grants, election workers

Wisconsin voters approved two state referendum questions Tuesday altering parts of how state elections are administered ahead of the 2024 election.   

With 51% of votes counted as of 9:00 p.m., 52.8% of Wisconsinites voted yes”to the first referendum question, which prevents use of private funds for administering state level elections. Meanwhile, 56.2% of Wisconsinites voted yes”to the second referendum question, limiting who is involved in the voting process.

The questions, both of which were placed on the ballot by Republican lawmakers, were worded as follows:

QUESTION #1: “Use of private funds in election administration. Shall grant section 7 (1) of article III of the constitution be created to provide that private donations and grants may not be applied for, accepted, expended, or used in connection with the conduct of any primary, election, or referendum?”

QUESTION #2: “Election officials. Shall section 7 (2) of article III of the constitution be created to provide that only election officials designated by law may perform tasks in the conduct of primaries, elections, and referendums?” 

The first Republican-led referendum question follows 2020 controversy over election grants provided to some Wisconsin cities from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, an organization funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife. The group donated $6.8 million in grant money to Wisconsin’s five largest cities to help facilitate the presidential election.  

Assembly Republicans argued the private donation unfairly advantaged President Joe Biden in the election as a majority of the grant money went to “left-leaning” cities in Wisconsin. Clerks said these funds helped alleviate unexpected costs while running elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Assembly lawmakers attempted to counter the center’s donation in 2021 when Republicans passed a bill preventing cities from accepting private election funds. However, Gov. Tony Evers vetoed the bill, saying private donations did not compromise fair administration of the 2020 election.

Private election donations were previously allowed under Wisconsin state law, three courts and the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission previously determined.

The second Republican-led referendum question adds a new section to the state constitution dictating that no one other than an election official designated by law may help conduct elections in the state. 

Wisconsin statutes currently provide extensive rules regarding the appointment of election officials and specify only legally appointed poll workers can administer an election.  

However, the referendum ensures rules pertaining to election workers will be enshrined in the state constitution, further challenging any attempts to change or get rid of current state statutes.

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Sen. Eric Wimberger, R-Green Bay, and Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, alongside other conservative organizations, including Election Integrity for Wisconsin, law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty and Wisconsin Voter Alliance, supported the referendums on Tuesday’s ballot. 

American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin (ACLU), Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and All Voting is Local Action Wisconsin joined Democrats to oppose the referendums.

Multiple city clerks told Wisconsin Watch late last month that the referendum questions are too vague and could add uncertainty to Wisconsin’s election process ahead of a heated 2024 presidential election.

Both amendments will go into effect immediately and will be enforced throughout the state during the August partisan primary and November presidential election. 

Editor’s Note: This article was updated at 10:13 p.m. on April 2, 2024.

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