Wisconsin voters approve two GOP-backed ballot measures that will change how elections are run

Updated

Wisconsin voters on Tuesday approved a pair of Republican-backed constitutional amendments that will change how elections are run in the critical battleground state, according to projections from The Associated Press.

The first measure, labeled on the ballot as Question 1, will ban the use of private funds in election administration — often referred derisively to by conservatives as “Zuckerbucks.”

The second measure, Question 2, narrows the role and definition of an election worker. Specifically, the measure asked voters to decide whether “only election officials designated by law may perform tasks in the conduct of primaries, elections, and referendums.”

Wisconsin residents vote in the Presidential Primary election. (Erica Dischino / Reuters)
Wisconsin residents vote in the Presidential Primary election. (Erica Dischino / Reuters)

Opponents had argued that the measures were the result of unfounded conspiracy theories following Joe Biden’s 2020 election win and that passing them would create obstacles to smoothly administering elections this fall in Wisconsin, where the results could help decide the presidential election, as well as the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

Supporters said the first measure would effectively ban “dark money” from elections and that the second would help clarify and streamline election administration.

The ballot measures have roots in unfounded claims Donald Trump's allies made about the 2020 election results.

During that election, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg made $400 million in donations to two nonprofit groups to help recruit poll workers and buy protective equipment to shield people from getting sick during the heart of the Covid pandemic. A group called the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonpartisan organization funded largely by grants from Zuckerberg and his wife, made $10 million available to officials in Wisconsin that year.

Many Republicans in Wisconsin and across the U.S. have falsely claimed that the money helped boost Democratic turnout in 2020. Biden flipped the state after Trump won it four years prior.

Democrats in the state had urged voters to oppose both measures, while Republicans rallied support for them.

Republicans in the state lauded their passage.

"Wisconsin has spoken and the message is clear: elections belong to voters, not out-of-state billionaires," Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Brian Schimming said in a statement. "Wisconsinites have turned the page on Zuckerbucks and secured our elections from dark money donors."

Democrats blasted Republican lawmakers for advancing false claims about the 2020 election and blamed them for even giving voters the chance to decide on the questions.

“Thanks to the efforts of Robin Vos and Republican politicians in Wisconsin’s legislature, our Constitution will now reflect the lies Donald Trump has told about his 2020 loss, lies he repeated even today on stage in Green Bay," Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesperson Joe Oslund said in a statement.

Trump held a rally Tuesday in Wisconsin where he again falsely stated that he won the state in 2020. And Vos, the Republican state Assembly Speaker, launched a highly publicized review into the 2020 election, championed by Trump allies in the state, that ultimately revealed no evidence of malfeasance or wrongdoing.

"Make no mistake: our year-round work to ensure every eligible Wisconsinite is able to cast their ballot will continue, and we will overcome this latest Republican effort to interfere in our elections — just like we’ve overcome all the others," Oslund added.

In recent days, high-profile Republicans from the state and elsewhere — including Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., whose office was involved in an attempt to deliver fake elector materials to Vice President Mike Pence on Jan. 6, 2021, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who has pushed false claims of widespread fraud during the 2020 election — had cut videos in support of both measures.

But unlike in other springtime races in the purple state in recent years, the ballot measures did not attract much attention or spending from outside groups.

Even opponents predicted they’d pass, saying that a sleepy, low-turnout primary election — occurring after both major parties have essentially already picked their nominees — would leave only dedicated supporters of the measures to come out for them.

“In the April elections Wisconsin tends to have low turnout, and not many people are going to look at these [closely]. Maybe they’ll read it and think, ‘yeah, that sounds reasonable,’” Jay Heck, the executive director of Common Cause Wisconsin, the state’s branch of the national nonpartisan government watchdog group, said ahead of the results. “But they are both the product of election denial.”

Their impact could be notable, Heck suggested. With avenues for additional funding roped off, and with the scope of who can volunteer as poll workers narrowed, the possibility of additional conspiracy theories and chaos during and following another close race this fall — the state’s past two presidential elections were both decided by fewer than 23,000 votes — could be more likely.

“Unless the Legislature fully funds election administration, which the Republican-controlled Legislature never has done and never will do, then this leaves election clerks all over the state of Wisconsin without the resources to run elections” well, he said.

Republicans in the Legislature referred the measures directly to voters after Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, vetoed their attempts to pass laws seeking the same outcomes. Wisconsin is among a handful of states where lawmakers refer proposed constitutional amendments to the ballot so voters can decide. In other states, voters can try to directly place such measures on ballots via signature-gathering processes.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 27 other states have moved to “prohibit, limit or regulate the use of private or philanthropic funding to run elections” since the 2020 election.

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