The Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature passed two constitutional amendment proposals this week that seek to prohibit noncitizen voting and the use of private money to conduct elections. Both measures will now head to voters for approval.
SJR 78 stipulates that no state employee or political subdivision “may apply for, accept, expend, or use any moneys or equipment in connection with the conduct of any primary, election, or referendum if the moneys or equipment are donated or granted by an individual or nongovernmental entity.” The proposal additionally bans anyone “other than an election official designated by law from performing any task in the conduct of any primary, election, or referendum.”
The measure passed the State Assembly (60-35) on Thursday after clearing the Senate on Tuesday (21-10). Every present Republican in both chambers supported the proposal while every present Democrat voted in opposition.
During the 2020 election, nonprofits such as the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) received hundreds of millions of dollars from Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. These “Zuckbucks” were poured into local election offices in battleground states around the country to change how elections were administered; among other things, this was done by expanding unsupervised election protocols like mail-in voting and using ballot drop boxes. To make matters worse, the grants were heavily skewed toward Democrat-majority counties, essentially making it a massive, privately funded Democrat get-out-the-vote operation.
Leading up to the 2020 contest, Wisconsin received roughly $10.1 million “Zuckbucks” from CTCL, which “distributed a total of 31 grants above the $5,000 minimum to Wisconsin cities and townships.” Of those 31 grants, 28 went to cities, eight of which were won by Trump and 20 by Biden.
In recent years, bills attempting to restrict or ban the use of private money in Wisconsin elections have successfully cleared the Republican-controlled legislature only to be vetoed by Democrat Gov. Tony Evers. Using the constitutional amendment process permits Republicans to give voters the final say on the matter, circumventing Evers’ efforts to keep Wisconsin’s elections open to private actors.
“This proposed constitutional amendment is aimed to stop private entities and out-of-state billionaires from circumventing campaign finance laws, directly buying off cities, and using the government entity as a targeted Get-Out-The-Vote effort,” amendment sponsor and GOP Sen. Eric Wimberger said in a statement.
In addition to the “Zuckbucks” ban, Wisconsin Republicans also passed SJR 71, which aims to tighten current constitutional provisions to ensure noncitizens can’t vote in the state’s elections. While Wisconsin’s current constitution “provides that every United States citizen age 18 or older who is a resident of an election district in Wisconsin is a qualified elector of that district,” SJR 71 would specify that “only a United States citizen age 18 or older is a qualified elector and only such a qualified elector may vote in an election for national, state, or local office or at a statewide or local referendum.”
Much like the “Zuckbucks” ban, the prohibition on noncitizen voting passed with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats opposing.
Having successfully cleared the state legislature in two consecutive legislative sessions, as specified by the Wisconsin Constitution, both SJR 78 and SJR 71 must now be approved by Wisconsin voters in order to be added to the state’s constitution. The “Zuckbucks” and noncitizen voting bans will appear on the state’s April and November 2024 ballots, respectively.