State Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, has introduced a bipartisan bill to improve absentee balloting during the pandemic. Although it has not had a hearing, some aspects of the legislation were adopted by the Wisconsin Elections Commission, including sending absentee ballot applications to 2.6 million registered state voters. Photographed in Luxemburg, Wis., in 2016. Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch
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A bipartisan bill in the Wisconsin Legislature this spring proposed changes to improve voting during a state of emergency. But the GOP-run Legislature has shown little appetite for it or other bills designed to facilitate the mail-in voting process.

State Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, has introduced a bipartisan bill to improve absentee balloting during the pandemic. Although it has not had a hearing, some aspects of the legislation were adopted by the Wisconsin Elections Commission, including sending absentee ballot applications to 2.6 million registered state voters. Photographed in Luxemburg, Wis., in 2016. Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, co-sponsored the legislation with Rep. Staush Gruszynski, D-Green Bay. The bill introduced in May has yet to have a hearing in either the Assembly or the Senate, but several of its provisions — including ballot tracking barcodes and sending absentee ballot applications to all registered voters — have nevertheless been implemented by the Wisconsin Elections Commission. 

“I want to make it as easy as possible for people to (vote by mail), but I also want to protect the integrity of the election,” Kitchens says. 

Because of the state’s photo ID requirement, he believes the current system is largely resistant to fraud, despite the president’s words to the contrary. And Kitchens stresses there is a big difference between sending out ballots automatically to all registered voters — something he does not support — and sending them applications only.

“Some of (Trump’s) comments — in my mind — have stirred up this fear in people that if you vote by mail, it’s going to be fraudulent,” Kitchens says. “I don’t think it has to be … if they would look at the way we are handling it, I think it will be a legitimate, fair vote.” 

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Max Witynski is a contributor to the "Narrow Margin" project at Wisconsin Watch. He graduated in May 2020 with a Master's degree from the UW School of Journalism and Mass Communication, concentrating on energy and environment reporting. Max has covered energy and recycling policy at Industry Dive, a Washington, D.C.-based media company and written about health equity, renewable energy and invasive species for the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, the Wisconsin Energy Institute and Curb Magazine. Born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, his first experience in journalism was as an editorial intern at the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. He has a Bachelor's degree in biology and society from Cornell University.