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Republicans threaten lawsuit against Madison ballot drive

Empower Wisconsin | Sept 25, 2020

MADISON — Legislative Republicans sent a letter to Madison’s city clerk late Friday afternoon urging her “in the strongest possible terms” to call off a day-long event Saturday aimed at collecting absentee ballots. 

Attorney Misha Tseytlin, representing Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) asserts the “Democracy in the Park” rally is “an unlawful effort,” and the city should abandon it immediately to “avoid the threat of invalidated ballots and needless litigation.”

“At minimum, your office should keep any ballots collected during this illegal effort separate from all other ballots that your office receives,” the letter admonishes City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl.

As Empower Wisconsin first reported Thursday, the clerk’s office is hosting the questionable get-out-the-vote initiative on Saturday and on Oct. 3. We know all of this because Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign has paid for radio ads promoting the events. That’s alarming in and of itself. 

But clerks and other election watchers are raising concerns about the potential voter integrity problems the events could create. 

At Madison’s event, poll workers will be at  more than 200 parks registering voters, answering questions about voting “and accepting your completed ballot.” Absentee voters who still need to find a witness “can just bring a blank ballot with them and have a poll worker serve as their witness,” according to the ad. 

Tseytlin, who served as solicitor general in former Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel’s state Department of Justice, writes that Wisconsin law already provides for numerous, readily available methods for all voters to return their completed absentee ballots by the November 3, 2020, statutory deadline. Voters may return their completed ballots through the mail, deliver them in-person at the clerk’s office, submit them at an authorized in-person-absentee-voting location, or bring them to their polling location on election day. 

Voters may also deposit their completed absentee ballots in authorized “drop boxes,” which “must be secured and locked at all times” to protect ballot integrity. All methods of voting “whole-heartedly” supported by Republican lawmakers. 

“Your “Democracy in the Park” campaign, however, appears to fall outside of these lawful categories,” the letter states. “As your office describes the campaign, your poll workers will attempt to collect absentee ballots at over 200 unsecured, outdoor locations, and only deliver these ballots to the City Clerk’s Office at the end of the six-hour campaign. The threat that this procedure poses to ballot integrity is manifestly obvious.” 

Given the myriad other convenient options, Republicans assert there is no justification “for this ad hoc, unsecure, and unlawful approach that your campaign appears to be creating,” the letter states.  

But a Republican member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission tells Empower Wisconsin that he sees nothing illegal about what he says looks like a get-out-the-vote effort.

“I assume they’re going to very very careful and they have instructed all of their poll workers how to do this properly,” said commissioner Bob Spindell. “There’s no reason to believe they would take short cuts.”  

But that’s a hard sell for a lot of conservatives worried that far left Madison and its Trump-hating government leaders could try to game the system. They’re particularly worried about ballot harvesting, in which someone other than a family member is allowed to submit a voter’s absentee ballot. Spindell said the practice is perfectly legal in Wisconsin. A pending lawsuit contends it is not but that the Elections Commission needs to issue a rule banning ballot harvesting. 

“Democracy in the Park” and similar initiatives reportedly are being paid for by an infusion of funding from the Center for Tech and CIVIC Life (CTCL). As Wisconsin Spotlight has reported, CTCL is a well-funded advocate of liberal voting initiatives. Facebook Founder and liberal speech arbiter Mark Zuckerberg and his wife just dumped $250 million into the group’s election efforts — along with many millions more from liberal backers such as the Skoll Foundation and the Democracy Fund. 

Republicans are asking Madison’s city clerk to cease and desist. 

“Given the apparent unlawfulness of the absentee-ballot-collection efforts of your ‘Democracy in the Park campaign,’ there is a grave risk that all ballots you collect through this campaign will be challenged in court and ultimately invalidated,” the letter states.

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