MADISON - Wisconsin Republicans who oppose making it easier for people to vote absentee have taken advantage of the opportunity to vote by mail in recent elections, with more than 80% of GOP members of the state Legislature doing it in April.
An analysis of absentee voting records provided to The Associated Press by the liberal advocacy group A Better Wisconsin Together showed a dramatic increase in absentee voting in the April presidential primary and state Supreme Court election. Republicans fought against making that election mail-in only as Democrats and Gov. Tony Evers proposed.
In the November 2018 and 2016 presidential elections, only around 33% of Republican state senators and 18 percent or less of Assembly members voted absentee. In April, that jumped to 81% of Assembly Republicans, 51 out of 63, and 83% of Senate Republicans, 15 out of 19.
President Donald Trump and Republicans have alleged, without evidence, that absentee voting leads to widespread fraud. Trump last week said the growing use of mail-in ballots is the "biggest risk" to his reelection, and his chances may hinge on whether he can successfully block efforts to make voting by mail easier during the pandemic.
Some Wisconsin Republican were outspoken after the April election against a plan by the bipartisan state elections commission to mail absentee ballot applications to 2.7 million voters. Wisconsin lawmakers have also previously passed laws limiting the time that votes can be cast absentee before an election; limiting locations where voters can vote in-person absentee; and made it more difficult to obtain the ballot.
Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, the Wisconsin Senate majority leader who is running for Congress, said in May that he opposed mailing people absentee ballot applications because the voter list had not been "cleaned up" to remove people who shouldn't be on there, primarily because they moved.
"Wisconsin has online registration, excuse-free absentee voting, early in-person voting, and Election Day registration, making it easier to vote in Wisconsin than most other states," Fitzgerald said in explaining his opposition to sending absentee ballot applications to more people. He voted absentee in April.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos voted in person in April. He was widely criticized for saying, while dressed head to toe in protective clothing, that it was "incredibly safe" to vote in person in April. He did vote absentee in the February primary. Vos has said that expanding absentee voting makes it easier to commit fraud.
Vos did support mailing the absentee ballot application form as approved by the elections commission, a fact spokeswoman Kit Beyer highlighted when commenting on the liberal group's analysis.
"Speaker Vos believes voting should be easy to do and uniform throughout the state," Beyer said. "Absentee voting is an important option in the process. That's why he supported the (elections commission) mailing."
Vos opposed Evers' effort shortly before the April primary to move that to an all-mail election, saying at the time it was "logistically impossible and incredibly flawed" so close to the election. But Assembly Republicans also rejected a call from Democrats to make all elections in 2020 mail-in only, with in-person voting only for those who couldn't cast absentee ballots.
Fitzgerald did not immediately return a message seeking comment Friday.
Republican Rep. Rick Gundrum, of Slinger, circulated a letter opposed to the elections commission sending the absentee ballot application. He said in the letter that while the proposal "is well-intended as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are concerned about the ramifications of sending a massive mailing to voters who have not requested an absentee ballot." He specifically cited concerns about extra work and expense it would cause local election clerks.
Gundrum cast absentee ballots in four elections since 2018, including the April presidential primary.
Nearly every Republican member of the Legislature has voted absentee at least once over the past two years. The analysis showed that 94% of Senate Republicans and 92% of those in the Assembly voted absentee since 2018.
"If absentee ballots are good enough for Republican legislators, they should be accessible to all Wisconsin voters," said Nicole Safar, executive director of A Better Wisconsin Together. "They risked people's lives in the April 2020 election and they're at again. Instead of supporting more people voting by mail, they're risking Wisconsinites' health and safety by continually opposing and impeding absentee voting."
TOMAHAWK - The Tomahawk Fall ride concluded Sunday. The three day motorcycle festival had less attendance than in previous years due to COVI-19, but it did not stop local businesses from enjoying the visitors from all over the country.
Local and small businesses were out in full force trying to make profits for the season with Fall ride concluding the festival season. The town of Tomahawk had less attendees than last year but the hotels had no problem filling their rooms. The owner of the Four Seasons Motel, Andy Wadia, said September is their busiest time of year.
"So many people came from Chicago, Minnesota, Iowa, some from California so it's good," said Wadia. "Good for the business good for the town, you know local business is good for local business you know."
Not only were there visitors from all over the country but business vendors like Eli Villarreal, Owner of Marie's Famous Headbands drove all the way from Corpus Christi, Texas to keep his business alive through the pandemic.
"We didn't hit our numbers like we did last year," said Villarreal. "This year we're probably like 40 percent down, but like I said with everything being cancelled across the US we'll take it right now. I mean we need it, that's our bread and butter."
Tomahawk businesses love when fall ride comes for the three day weekend as it is the last push for businesses to make their final profits before the off season takes over and the influx of tourism grinds to a halt.
FLORENCE - We have updates from Florence, Onconto, and Shawano Counties on the identification of the invasive Emerald Ash Borer species which attacks and kills all true ash species. They have been found in 57 of the 72 counties in Wisconsin.
Public Lands Forester, of Florence County, Tyler Wood explained how the Emerald Ash Borer likes to travel on firewood, to reduce the spread to other places, burn the wood in the same place you bought or gathered it.
"The Emerald Ash Borer can fly easily about a half a mile, and up to maybe 5 miles away from a host tree to find another tree in order to infect that tree," said Wood.
Though there won't be a significant impact on the environment in Florence county, not knowing if your tree is infected could lead to safety concerns around your property or for people with streets lined with the trees, dangerous roadways could occur during storms.
Forest Health Specialist, Linda Williams, spoke about how the future extinction would affect more than just the forest. The MLB uses ash trees to make their baseball bats, as well as the local Native American tribes whos culture traditions create baskets from ash.
"The Emerald Ash Borer will kill the Ash Trees. And we've seen that happening in southern Wisconsin as well as other states that have had it for much longer than us. Other species of trees tend to come into those sites sometimes they are desirable species and some are not," said Williams..
If you are a concerned ash tree owner some signs that your tree has been infested is the outer bark removed by woodpeckers, and D-shaped holes where the insects have emerged.
For people with 10 plus acres you can file a request with the DNR to have a walk through to understand how to manage the Emerald Ash Borer at mywisconsinwoods.org.
MADISON - The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction violated state law when it withheld voucher students' standardized test scores for a day last fall, a judge ruled Friday.
School Choice Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative law firm, sued the department in Jefferson County court in November. The lawsuit revolved around the 2018-19 standardized test scores that the department released that September.
- A lot is happening underwater while Wisconsin is transitioning from summer, to fall, and winter.
But we don't really see those changes. Though we might be getting out of the water, fish can still thrive in the colder temperatures.
DNR Fisheries Supervisor John Kubisiak explains exactly how.
"These fish have been around for millions of years so they've had a long time to deal with these annual temperature cycles of course," Kubisiak said.
In the fall, a lake's temperature gets closer and closer to freezing.
Fish are cold-blooded. Meaning, their environment's temperature controls their body temperature. Kubisiak said the reason why the lake temperature is such a big issue is because that drives their metabolic processes.
How exactly do the fish prepare for the cold weather?
MOSINEE - President Donald Trump stepped up his rhetoric on cultural issues, aiming to boost enthusiasm among rural Wisconsin voters as he tries to repeat his path to victory four years ago.
Making his fifth visit to the pivotal battleground state this year, Trump views success in the state's less-populated counties as critical to another term. He held a rally Thursday evening in Mosinee, in central Wisconsin, an area of the state that shifted dramatically toward Republicans in 2016, enabling Trump to overcome even greater deficits in urban and suburban parts of the state.
MADISON - The state Department of Workforce Development's top leader resigned Friday after failing to find a way to address a massive backlog of unprocessed unemployment benefit claims sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' office said Caleb Frostman stepped down after the governor called for his resignation. Republicans have peppered Evers with criticism for months over the department's inability to process tens of thousands of benefit claims that have been flowing in since the coronavirus took hold in the U.S. in March.
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