Democrats want to require schools to teach voter education courses, offer dueling election bills to GOP proposals

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MADISON Wis. (CBS 58) -- Democrats are introducing a pair of election bills after Republican lawmakers recently passed proposals that create restrictions on absentee ballots and implement new penalties for those who violate election laws.  

Democrats are circulating two bills at the capitol to allow 17-year-olds to vote in a primary election as long as they turn 18 when the general election is held. Another bill would require K-12 schools to teach students a course on voter education, such as the importance of voting, how to vote and additional information to prepare them for when they become eligible to vote. 

The Department of Public Instruction would be responsible for developing the curriculum about the electoral process which would be at least one hour of voter education every school year, under the bill.  

"I think it's a great way to help young people pay attention earlier to help education themselves and to learn more about the candidates," said Democrat Senator Kelda Roys of Madison, a co-sponsor of both bills. "Democracy works best when more people can participate, especially young people."  

The move comes as Republican lawmakers have introduced over a dozen election related bills after former President Donald Trump was narrowly defeat by Joe Biden in Wisconsin, losing in the battleground state by fewer than 21,000 votes.    

Last week, Senate Republicans passed bills that would require those who identify as indefinitely confined to show proof of their photo ID and fill out additional paperwork to cast an absentee ballot, another requires confined voters to apply to get an absentee ballot each year instead of the current law that sends them automatically. 

"It's very disappointing to see some colleagues who were elected in 2020 continue to push the big lie and these widely unfounded conspiracy theories that are really meant to undermine the confidence in elections," said Roys of Republican bills. 

Another GOP-backed bill would make it a felony if someone who works in a long term care facility influences a resident to apply, or not apply, for an absentee ballot. Municipalities who have fewer than 70,000 residents would only be allowed to have one ballot drop box at the clerk's office, instead of offering it at multiple locations, under another bill. Larger cities could have up to three drop boxes, but only on city property such as a police or fire station.  

All of the proposals now head to the Assembly for final approval.  

UW-Madison Political Science Professor Mike Wagner said the multiple efforts by Republicans to change election laws is rooted in concerns about fraud, "even though evidence is overwhelming that fraud is not a problem in elections."  

"I think it's important to say there aren’t irregulates in the vote," said Wagner "When Republicans claim it and pretend there's irregularities, without evidence, doesn't mean there were any." 

The GOP efforts are likely to be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers who is stands in the way of these bills becoming law. Evers has said in the past he opposes measures that create barriers to voting and make it more difficult to cast a ballot.  

Republicans often defend their proposals because they believe it would address irregularities and other issues that followed the 2020 presidential election.  

Four GOP lawmakers also recently toured Arizona's controversial ballot audit, according to a report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The visit also follows a top Republican, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, hiring former law enforcement officials to review how the presidential election was carried out.  

"If you lose an election, your avenue is to win the next one and that's how democracy is supposed to be contested," said Wagner. "They are not supposed to be contested by changing the rules to make it easier for your side to win." 

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