Elections Commission Votes To Continue Temporary Mail-In Voting Policy For Nursing Home Residents

Policy Introduced In Response To COVID-19 Pandemic, Visitor Restrictions At Care Facilities

"I voted!" stickers
Alex Brandon/AP Photo

The Wisconsin Elections Commission voted Wednesday to continue a temporary mail-in voting policy created for nursing home and care facility residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The temporary policy, put in place by the commission earlier this year, suspends an in-person voting program for facility residents and makes it easier for election officials to send them mail-in ballots instead.

The commission voted 5-1 to continue the policy through 2020. Under the change, election officials are allowed to send mail-in ballots to nursing homes and care facilities without first sending individuals called “special voting deputies” to assist residents with in-person voting.

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The so-called SVDs normally deliver ballots to residents, and help residents fill them out if necessary.

Before the pandemic, state law required clerks to send SVDs to facilities two times before they could mail absentee ballots to residents.

The majority of commissioners agreed requiring clerks to send the SVDs when many facilities aren’t accepting visitors would be a waste of time. They also said continuing the SVD program as COVID-19 continues to spread in the state could be dangerous for elderly residents who are at higher risk of severe symptoms of the virus.

“It is very clear and should be clear to everyone that when this virus gets into nursing homes, people die — and that’s not hyperbole, that is the facts,” said commissioner Dean Knudson, who was appointed to the commission by Republican state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

Fellow Republican-appointed commissioner Marge Bostelmann joined Knudson and all Democratic-appointed commissioners in supporting the temporary policy.

Commissioner Bob Spindell, appointed by GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, was the lone “no” vote. Spindell said the SVD program shouldn’t be suspended, and that facilities should be allowed to use them if they would like to.

“Facilities should be allowed to do what they want,” Spindell said. “I would think there could be appropriate precautions.”

Spindell also raised concerns about “absentee ballots floating around the care facilities.”

Nursing home and care facility residents who vote by mail will be required to meet all legal requirements for doing so, including having a witness sign their ballot.