Coronavirus Increased Mail-In Ballot Popularity. Conservatives Now Want to Make It Harder.

absentee ballot mailings



By Jessica VanEgeren

June 8, 2020

Conservative group has one case before the state Supreme Court. It could have another. 

When people in Wisconsin vote by absentee ballot, they can mail the ballot back to their local clerks themselves or, as is often the case in senior living facilities, someone can take all of the sealed envelopes to the clerk’s office faster. 

Now a right wing group –already suing to remove about 130,000 voters from the registration rolls– is threatening a lawsuit if that extra convenience is not removed by the state Elections Commission.

Split between three Republicans and three Democrats, it seems unlikely that the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) will get its way without a court fight.

WILL is demanding a rule that no ballots can be returned to a clerk’s office by a third party on behalf of the elector after it has been completed, according to the petition before the commission.

Reid Magney, a spokesman with the Wisconsin Election Commission, said Monday there is no state law preventing a voter from giving his or her ballot to another person to return to the clerk’s office.

“We don’t want activists in the business of controlling which ballots get returned and how they get returned,” WILL’s president, Rick Esenberg, said in an interview with WISN (1130-AM).

Esenberg told the show’s host, Jay Weber, how the commission reacts to the petitioner’s request could lead to a lawsuit. If the commission does not pass a law banning the collection of ballots, WILL will file a legal suit, Esenberg said. 

President Trump also is weighing in on the absentee ballot debate. One of his more notable feuds on the subject involved threatening to withhold federal funding if Michigan did not change its absentee ballot policies. The false information the President tweeted concerning practices in Michigan was later deleted.

The conservative-led state Supreme Court agreed last week to take up the legal case WILL has already filed to purge the voter rolls based on often incorrect data.

In its latest effort to impact Wisconsin voting law, the only recent significant case of absentee ballots being altered by someone else came in a North Carolina congressional race where a Republican operative arranged for absentee ballots to be altered. The GOP candidate’s apparent narrow victory was thrown out by a court, and a new election had to be held.

Fraudulently changing a ballot is already a Class I felony offense under Wisconsin law. Nothing similar to the North Carolina case has been alleged in Wisconsin.

Two Republicans lawmakers introduced a bill during the past session that would have made it a Class H felony to collect ballots and return them to county clerks for other voters. A Class H felony consists of a fine not to exceed $10,000 or imprisonment not to exceed six years, or both.

A public hearing on Assembly Bill 898 was held in February. The bill then died at the end of the session in March.




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