Indefinitely Confined Voters

  • Wisconsin law allows a person who is “indefinitely confined because of age, physical illness or infirmity or is disabled for an indefinite period” to become a permanent absentee voter “by signing a statement to that effect.” This law has been on the books for more than 30 years.
  • Being a permanent absentee voter means the clerk must send the voter an absentee ballot automatically for every election. If a permanent absentee voter fails to return a ballot, the clerk must send the voter a letter giving notice the voter will be removed from the permanent list within 30 days if the voter does not reapply.
  • When the Legislature passed the Photo ID Law in 2011, it exempted permanent absentee voters from having to provide a copy of their photo ID to receive a ballot. These voters are allowed a substitution under state law whereby the voter’s witness verifies the permanent absentee voter’s identity and certifies to that verification by signing the return envelope. State law requires the witness to verify the name and address of the indefinitely confined voter “in lieu of providing proof of identification.” Wis Stats 6.87(4)(b)2. 
  • The WEC did not encourage anyone to declare themselves indefinitely confined or to claim that status to avoid the photo ID law – it’s actually the opposite.  In Jefferson v. Dane County, 2020AP557-OA, the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed with the WEC’s guidance about indefinitely confined voters – including that voters could not use it to get out of providing a photo ID.  At its meeting of March 27, 2020, the six-member, bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission discussed how the indefinitely confined statutes intersected with COVID-19.  The Commission adopted the following guidance, which was later affirmed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, related to the use of indefinitely confined status to assist local election officials working with absentee voters:
    • Designation of indefinitely confined status is for each individual voter to make based upon the voter’s current circumstance. It does not require permanent or total inability to travel outside of the residence. The designation is appropriate for electors who are indefinitely confined because of age, physical illness or infirmity or are disabled for an indefinite period.
    • Indefinitely confined status shall not be used by electors simply to avoid the photo ID requirement without regard to whether they are indefinitely confined because of age, physical illness, infirmity or disability.

For additional information on this topic, please see the full overview and attachments posted below.