Bipartisan reforms, not investigations, can restore faith in Wisconsin’s elections

It’s official: The Republican-controlled assembly passed a resolution to investigate formally the state’s administration of the 2020 election, which President Joe Biden won by fewer than 21,000 votes.

At this point, it seems pretty obvious that no evidence of widespread election irregularities will be found. After all, President Donald Trump and his allies have already filed several lawsuits challenging election results, which all saw their day in court and were dismissed. Wisconsin completed a partial recount in November—which turned up 87 more votes for President Biden. Dozens of similar lawsuits and recounts across the country have all failed to turn up evidence of widespread fraud.

If Assembly Republicans would like to spend the rest of their time in office investigating unsubstantiated claims of election fraud, they are welcome to do so. But if they are serious about improving election integrity, they would be better served focusing on reforms that can actually achieve bipartisan support and restore faith in the state’s elections.

Recent polling data shows that significant numbers of both Republican and Democratic Wisconsin voters back efforts to streamline and standardize processes for “curing” ballots. In the last election, voting officials threw out nearly 1,400 Wisconsin ballots due to minor errors like mismatched signatures or missing addresses.

“Ballot curing” refers to the process by which clerks address these errors. Wisconsin, unlike many other states, does not have a standardized cure process for notifying voters and dealing with minor errors on ballots. That means that election clerks may choose to contact a voter to correct the ballot, or they may simply throw it away. The lack of standardized procedure may lead to variability in treatment of ballots between different jurisdictions, which raises concerns about fairness.

Twenty-three other states from across the political spectrum have adopted a cure process. Federal courts in North Carolina, Indiana, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and North Dakota have gone a step further and ruled that denying voters the opportunity to correct problems with their ballots deprives them of their right to due process.

Adopting a standardized cure process is a commonsense way to give voters the chance to correct their ballots and restore confidence that every vote counts. It’s also popular among Republican and Democratic voters alike—with 77 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of Democrats responding favorably— which means it has the bipartisan appeal to pass in a divided government.

In addition to ballot curing, Wisconsin voters have also shown broad support for processing absentee ballots in advance of Election Day. Currently, Wisconsin is one of just several states that does not allow absentee ballots to be processed ahead of Election Day. This resulted in an avalanche of absentee ballots from Democratic strongholds like Milwaukee being reported around 3:30 am on November 4, adding fuel to erroneous claims of fraud.

Reforms like increasing preprocessing time for absentee ballots and standardizing a cure process may not score political points. They also may not gin up constituents who refuse to accept that President Biden was the winner of a legitimate election. But they will take important, concrete steps toward ensuring every American’s vote is counted and restoring faith in our democracy.

Unfortunately, efforts in Madison to reform the state’s elections have mostly fallen along party lines. Republican lawmakers have introduced bills to restrict absentee voting, while Democrats have favored sweeping, partisan bills that expand voting access. Needless to say, none of these proposals will make it through both a Republican-led legislature and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ desk.

Now, more than ever, lawmakers must come together to restore faith in the electoral process. Restoring public trust is crucial for the continuation of self-governance and the future of our democracy. The way to do that is not through partisan politics and investigations that will lead nowhere, but through meaningful reforms.

Caroline Kitchens is director of government affairs at the R Street Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank focused on free markets and limited, effective government. She is a native of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.