Controversy Erupts Over Wisconsin Election Commission’s Absentee Ballot Practices

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Three days after a Wisconsin judge issued a temporary restraining order on the state’s election regulator, the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) remains silent about its latest legal challenge. However, state lawmakers, including the former chairwoman of the Assembly’s Elections Committee, have been vocal, describing WEC’s alleged violation of election law as the “absentee ballot scandal of 2024.”

As initially reported on Friday, Judge James Morrison issued the restraining order, preventing WEC from mandating that Wisconsin’s approximately 1,900 local election clerks use legally questionable absentee ballot envelopes while the court reviews the complaint’s validity.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of a Wisconsin voter by attorneys Kevin Scott and Daniel Eastman, contends that the elections commission puts Badger State voters in a position where they must either commit election fraud or refrain from casting absentee ballots.

The complaint asserts that by approving new ballot envelopes suggested by WEC staff, the commission violated Wisconsin election law. If used, these envelopes “would cause voters to falsely certify that the ballot envelope itself is an original or a copy of the ballot request generated through MyVote when it is not.” MyVote is the state’s online portal for absentee ballot requests.

“By forcing people to falsely certify that the return envelope itself is a copy of a completely different document, WEC created a situation where people who requested absentee ballots through MyVote were either committing election fraud by making a false statement in conjunction with voting a ballot or were forced to not vote absentee — a Hobson’s choice,” Scott explained.

‘Incredible Disaster’

The six commissioners — three Democrats and three Republicans — appear to have once again taken questionable advice from agency attorneys.

State Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, described the latest WEC scandal as an “incredible disaster.” She stated that not only does it put the state in a difficult legal position, but WEC’s “fix” to its ballot request problems also diminishes election security by weakening the chain of custody for absentee ballots.

“There is no trail for requesting a ballot. … This would make the mail-in delivery system untraceable,” said Brandtjen, who was appointed by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, in 2021 to lead the Assembly’s investigation into the 2020 election. Vos ultimately removed Brandtjen after facing criticism from the left and media allies who labeled those questioning election integrity as “election deniers.”

“Do you just want to hand the election to the Democrats?” Brandtjen asked, highlighting the importance of Wisconsin in deciding the next president. “There is no downside to cheating in Wisconsin with Republicans who are uneducated or unwilling to understand election law as it stands.”

A commission spokesperson has not responded to multiple requests for comment since Friday. Bob Spindell, a Republican-appointed commissioner, also declined to comment on the ongoing lawsuit.

“Rather than carrying out and enforcing election laws as written, WEC administrators are trying to find a way to skirt state statutes,” said state Sen. Julian Bradley, a Milwaukee-area Republican. “Anytime an unelected bureaucrat decides not to follow the letter of the law — or even worse, create new law themselves — it raises concern. We must follow the law and conduct free and fair elections.”

Brandtjen is renewing the call to remove controversial Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe and dissolve an agency long criticized for not adhering to Wisconsin election law. A group of lawmakers in December proposed a bill to dissolve WEC and transfer election administration to the Secretary of State’s office. Sarah Godlewski, the current Secretary of State, appointed last year by Democrat Gov. Tony Evers, is a far-left political figure, but it’s an elected position, and Republicans believe Godlewski will struggle to win a statewide election.

Efforts to remove Wolfe from office, including a failed impeachment campaign, have not succeeded. She has remained in her position since last fall when the Republican-controlled legislature unsuccessfully attempted to fire her.

The litigation over the ballot envelopes is the latest in a series of complaints against a beleaguered elections commission and Wolfe.

WEC now appears to be caught in a problem it created.

‘Foment Election Fraud’

In another Wisconsin election law case earlier this year, a voter challenged the commission’s legal authority to operate MyVote. WEC argued that all requests made through the website are “email” requests, an allowed method under Wisconsin election law.

WEC officials provided sworn testimony that when an elector seeks an absentee ballot through MyVote, the “request” for the ballot is a form generated by the system once the online process is complete. Although this argument seemed dubious, Ozaukee County Judge Steven Cain accepted it and ruled that all requests made through MyVote were “email” requests, which are allowable under the statute. The plaintiff is appealing that ruling.

This allowance appears to have created a problem for WEC. If an applicant requests an absentee ballot by email, Wisconsin statutes require the elector to include “in the envelope” a copy of the “request” for the ballot “bearing an original signature.”

“This language in the new EL-122 form directly contradicts the sworn testimony provided in the [Ozaukee County] case upon which Judge Cain relied,” Scott said. It created a Hobson’s choice for hundreds of thousands of absentee voters.

“… WEC has approved new absentee ballot return envelopes that exacerbate and foment election fraud — as defined by Wisconsin Statutes — by coercing voters returning absentee ballots requested through MyVote to falsely certify that the envelope itself is a ‘copy’ of the request,” the complaint states. “The new WEC envelope is not a replacement for a signed copy of the ballot request to be included ‘in the envelope’ in which the ballot is returned as required by section 6.87(4).”

Elections Commission ‘Out of Control’

WEC used $600,000 from a nearly $1.2 million U.S. Election Assistance Commission HAVA (Help America Vote Act) grant for the new absentee ballot envelopes. The grant funds were designated for “election security”.

Scott argues that the federal election funds are being used to “coerce Wisconsin voters into making false statements in regard to voting,” calling it “the height of irony.”

While Democrats often claim Republicans are trying to “suppress” voters, WEC’s new absentee ballot envelopes actually disenfranchise Wisconsin absentee voters, Eastman said.

“So at this point in Wisconsin, the only way that you can vote is in-person at a polling place because you can’t use the envelope until WEC fixes the envelope or unless the judge lifts the TRO [temporary restraining order],” the attorney stated Monday at a press conference in Union Grove. “The point is, we have a state agency that is simply out of control.”

Morrison has scheduled a June 5 hearing on the lawsuit’s merits. The Marinette County judge is expected to determine whether WEC has indeed violated Wisconsin election law and if the injunction will remain permanently.

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