Elections Commission holds emergency meeting

MADISON (WKOW) -- Members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission voted in a deadlock Sunday night during an emergency meeting over whether to take action against the Dane and Milwaukee county clerks.

The clerks had previously advised people to state that they are "indefinitely confined" if they are unable to upload a copy of their photo ID. The provision allows voters to avoid having to present an ID in order to submit an absentee ballot, as people stay home during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Voters may indicate that they're indefinitely confined, if that is what's holding them up from voting," said Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell in an interview Thursday.

Republicans accused McDonell and Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson of using the pandemic to get around election laws. They pointed to amemo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, which concluded Governor Tony Evers' "safer at home" emergency order "by its very terms does not render all Wisconsin residents indefinitely confined."

McDonell said his message is not meant for every voter.

"If (voters) cannot use MyVote, if they cannot get a photocopy to the clerk of their ID, which is what you need to get an absentee ballot sent, then they're indefinitely confined," McDonell said.

During Sunday's emergency meeting of the WEC, Republican members voted to denounce the clerks' words. While the agenda stated the commission would decide whether to "investigate" the clerks, the GOP members agreed that would be unnecessary.

"I think all we need to do is deliver the message to the Milwaukee County Clerk and Dane County Clerk that their advice regarding indefinite confinement was wrong," said commissioner Robert Spindell, Jr.

Democratic members opposed taking any action against the clerks.

"I don't think we should stain this institution's reputation wasting time on saying we're gonna criticize two clerks who are doing their best in a crisis," said commissioner Mark Thomsen. "It makes us look so small."

The result was 3-3 vote outcomes on both motions to take action against the clerks and to dismiss the matter altogether. As a result, the commission will take no action at all.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin has asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to get involved and order the clerks to correct their statements. The court has told McDonell to respond by Monday. McDonell, who said he is relying on the guidance of his legal counsel, stands by the advice he's given; he did not respond to a request for an interview following Sunday's meeting.

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