April 3, 2024

STATEMENT: Responsive Gov Calls For Publicly Funding Elections Instead of Banning Philanthropic Funds After Wisconsin Primary

A Majority of Wisconsin Voters Vote Yes On Question 1, Banning Philanthropic and Non-Governmental Funding of Election Administration
Madison, WI — On Tuesday, a majority of Wisconsin voters passed Wisconsin Question 1, the Prohibition on Non-Governmental Funding of Elections Amendment, in the state’s primary elections, choosing to ban philanthropic and non-governmental funding of elections in the state. The Republican-backed referendum will amend the Wisconsin Constitution “to provide that private donations and grants may not be applied for, accepted, expended, or used in connection with the conduct of any primary, election, or referendum.”

Leadership in the Wisconsin Legislature have not moved on a bill that would fund Wisconsin Election Offices, including Milwaukee, which would have been eligible for $2.5 million.

State legislative efforts to ban philanthropic funding for election administration have been on the rise since the 2020 election, often creating challenges for local election offices already operating on insufficient resources. Despite the chronic underfunding of elections and a critical federal election underway, the U.S. Congress failed to meet a bipartisan request from advocates seeking $400 million in additional Help America Vote Act (HAVA) grants. In fact, while funding was preserved Congress went backwards in the most recent budget, cutting HAVA grants to only $55 million for the entire nation this year.

“Efforts to ban philanthropic funding like Wisconsin Question 1 are a waste of time and resources that don’t actually achieve what should be our end goal: Ensuring every American voter has an opportunity to participate in secure, accessible, and efficient elections,” said Sam Oliker-Friedland, executive director of the Institute for Responsive Government. “We already know how to achieve this, in Wisconsin and around the country – by adequately resourcing our elections with both state and federal public funds and ensuring election officials have what they need to do their jobs.”

Research from the Institute for Responsive Government found that federal election funding is robustly utilized by election officials when available. An increase in HAVA grants would provide much-needed relief to cash-strapped election offices. Additionally, according to a study from MIT, government spending on election services ranks near the bottom of spending for all public services, about the same as what local governments spend on parking facilities.

To speak with Sam Oliker-Friedland about Wisconsin Question 1 and funding state and local elections, please contact dan@responsivegov.org