“SOCIAL JUSTICE/VOTING RIGHTS”
OCTOBER 2, 2021
ANNUAL GATHERING OF ABC CHURCHES PANEL
To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord and than sacrifice. Proverbs 21:3
Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute, Speak out Judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-9
“These are the times that try men’s souls.” This simple quotation from Founding Father Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis describes the beginnings of the American Revolution. This statement was made December 23, 1776 but could be used to describe our current state of affairs in America today.
The Commission on Congregational Missions of the ABC is pleased to share research that will address Voter Advocacy as it relates to social justice, so that we all may speak out resolutely against this assault on the voting rights of the poor, elderly and marginalized.
For the purpose of our research we defined Social Justice as “the belief that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities” as detailed in the 14th amendment to the constitution.
The 15th amendment additionally prohibits the federal government and each state from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” And yet today, America is dealing with a legislative and judicial assault on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which was a landmark piece of federal legislation in the United States that prohibits racial discrimination in voting.
This is a summary of our research:
The freedom to vote is basic to our democracy, and throughout the history of the United States of America, we’ve made great strides in making voting more accessible to all citizens. Under the guise of voter reform, several WI state legislators have proposed new laws that would severely limit accessibility to our voting process making it harder for many disabled persons, older adults or others who are “indefinitely confined” to vote, by making it much more difficult for any Wisconsinite to vote by absentee ballot.
Voters would no longer receive absentee ballots automatically, after submitting Voter ID materials once. They would have to apply for an absentee ballot for every election (primaries, special and general), submitting new Voter ID materials each time.
In addition, these bills will:
- Make it more difficult for friends and neighbors to assist with returning an absentee ballot.
- Restrict workers in nursing homes and group homes from offering residents assistance with voting.
- Threaten volunteers, clerks, and others with prosecution for violating the new barriers.
Attached is a complete list of the bills in question and their impact on voting. The Governor has vetoed this legislation.
The Scripture compels Christ’s church to speak out for the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves. Contact your legislators to share your concerns or support.
- Meet with them in person (or Zoom).
- Send an email or letter.
- Call their office.
- Speak at a Public Hearing or submit written comments.
- Send a letter to the editor of local newspaper.
SUMMARY OF VOTING BILLS
Statewide Voter Suppression Bills to intimidate the citizenry initially through administrative restrictions (restricting early and absentee voting and reduction of drop boxes for absentee ballots)
SB 203 / AB 192: Secure delivery of absentee ballots
- Would limit options to obtain and return absentee ballots.
- Prohibits any individual from helping more than two non-family member to return their absentee ballot. (as amended)
- Limits who can return a voter’s absentee ballot to the voter’s immediate family or legal guardian, with very limited exceptions.
- “If the voter is unable to deliver the absentee ballot and has no legal guardian or immediate family residing in this state, the voter may designate, in writing, one person who is a registered voter in this state to deliver the ballot, except that the voter may not designate a candidate on the ballot nor compensate the person to deliver the ballot.”
What is an “Indefinitely Confined Voter”?
- Permanent absentee voters due to age, illness or disability.
- If a voter has a hard time leaving their home to vote, due to age, illness, infirmity, or disability, and always wants to vote absentee, he/she may request an absentee ballot for every election and certify he/she is “indefinitely confined because of age, illness, infirmity, or disability”.
- Legislature passed Photo ID Law in 2011: exempted permanent absentee voters from having to provide a copy of their photo ID.
- These voters are allowed a substitution under state law. Their witness verifies their identity and certifies to that by signing the return envelope. State law requires the witness to verify the name and address of the indefinitely confined voter “in lieu of providing proof of identification.” Wis Stats 6.87(4)(b)2.
SB 204/ AB 201 Absentee Ballot Applications
This bill makes it more difficult to absentee vote.
- Eliminates the option for indefinitely confined voters to receive absentee ballots automatically for every election.
- Would require all indefinitely confined voters to provide a photo ID with their absentee ballot request.
- Prohibits the WI Election Commission, clerks, and other groups from sending absentee ballot applications to all eligible voters; makes it a felony to mail absentee ballot applications to anyone who has not requested one.
SB 205 / AB 179: Absentee Voting in Residential Care Facilities
- Would limit voting rights of nursing home and group home residents.
- If staff offered to provide a resident with assistance, this would be a felony: “No employee of a qualified retirement home … may influence an occupant of the home or facility to apply for or not apply for an absentee ballot or cast or refrain from casting a ballot.” May conflict with federal law which requires nursing homes support the right of residents to vote.
- This bill would require the administrator of the facility to notify relatives of the residents as to when the special voting deputies will be coming to the facility to assist in the casting of absentee ballots.
- Any action by staff that influences an eligible resident voter to request an absentee ballot or refrain from doing so would be a Class I felony.
- Would require the facility to notify residents’ relatives as to when the special voting deputies will be coming to the facility to assist in the casting of absentee ballots.
SB 206/AB 180 Returning Absentee Indefinitely Confined Voter
- Would limit voting rights of voters who certify as “indefinitely confined”.
- Voters would be required to provide statements under oath.
- Voters under 65 would need to have their statements signed by their doctors. A false statement would be a felony.
- Voters would need to renew their status every two years. Currently, these voters receive an absentee ballot for every election for as long as they need it. A false statement would be a felony.
- We want to work with policy makers to update and clarify the “indefinitely Confined” voter status.
SB 207/AB 173 – private resources used for an election/appointment of poll workers
- Would restrict who can serve as a poll worker. Employees of an issue advocacy group would not be able to serve as poll workers. Wisconsin currently has a shortage of poll workers.
- Would prohibit municipalities from applying for or accepting donations or grant moneys for purposes of election administration.
- Some municipalities have used donations and grant funding to address accessibility and curbside voting.
- Grant funding was used to fund health and safety precautions during COVID.
SB 209/AB 177 Returning Absentee Ballots/ Ballot Drop Boxes
- Requires voters to either mail or drop off their absentee ballots at the permanent location of the clerk’s office.
- Limits drop box locations to a location attached to the clerk’s permanent office. Reducing drop box locations will limit options for nondrivers and other voters to return their absentee ballot.
- Sets standards for drop boxes including that they be tamper resistant, moisture-proof, and satisfy the accessibility requirements under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
SB 212/ AB 198 Defects on Absentee Ballot Certificates
- Prohibits a municipal clerk from correcting a defect on the completed absentee ballot certificate envelope.
- If a certificate envelope has a defect, the clerk must return the ballot to the elector and post a notification of the defect on the elector’s voter information page on MyVote website. Notifications would not reach voters who cannot access MyVote; they would be unaware of the problem – such as a witness not including an address.
- The timeline to return the ballot to the voter and for the voter to resubmit may not allow time for the vote to be counted.
Governor Tony Evers vetoed all of the above bills on August 10, 2021. The vetoes were not over ridden.
Fair Elections WI website has a more thorough listing of all the voting legislation proposed, passed and vetoed as of 08/10/2021.
~Your Commission on Congregational Mission
- Bonnie Sorenson, Wauwatosa, Underwood Memorial
- Carolyn Parker, Milwaukee, Progressive
- Terry West, Milwaukee, New Hope
- Linda Cutler, Milwaukee, Greater Mt. Zion
- Russ Antos, Ixonia, First
- Karen Sundland, West Allis, First