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Elder vote abuse

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — An elderly Grand Chute nursing home resident was the victim of voter abuse at the hands of town, county, and Wisconsin state election officials, according to a new complaint filed with the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

Sandra Klitzke, who has suffered from cognitive decline for many years, was legally restricted from registering to vote or from voting in any election by order of the Outagamie County Circuit Court in February 2020, alleges the complaint, filed Thursday by Thomas More Society attorneys. Despite the order, Klitzke is recorded in Wisconsin’s voting records database, Wisvote, as having voted in both the Nov. 3, 2020 presidential election and the April 6, 2021 spring election in Wisconsin.

Klitzke is currently registered and marked as active by Wisvote—and has been sent an absentee ballot for Tuesday’s spring election, the complaint alleges.

Thomas More Society Special Counsel Erick Kaardal said Klitzke, who is the ward of her daughter Linda Goodwin, is under a “no vote” order by the county, and yet the state and local election officials have not fulfilled their duty in safeguarding the vote. They’ve “allowed rampant elder vote abuse and fraud to take place.”

“We are trying to fix a broken system and are taking steps to stop the elder abuse involved in the votes by Klitzke – and others under ‘no vote’ guardianship orders – that were cast in the 2020 and 2021 elections and prevent a reoccurrence of this in future elections,” Kaardal said.

The complaint names Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe, Town Clerk of Grand Chute Angie Cain, and Outagamie County Circuit Court Clerk Barb Bocik, as violating state law and the Outagamie County Circuit Court Order by allowing a ward under a “do not vote” guardianship order to register and vote.

Wisconsin law requires Wisconsin’s circuit court clerks to send the “no vote” orders to “election officials or agency” for the purpose of preventing an incapacitated ward from registering to vote and from voting. But when Wisconsin’s circuit court clerks fill out the circuit court Notice of Voting Eligibility form, they send it only to the Wisconsin Elections Commission—not to the municipal clerks, according to the complaint.

In turn, the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which administers the Wisvote database along with the municipal clerks, does not accurately record all “no vote” guardianship orders in the Wisvote database, the complaint alleges. Complete, accurate recording is necessary for the purpose of preventing ineligible wards from registering to vote and from voting. The Wisvote database has a data field for ineligible “incompetent.” “Incompetent” is the word the Wisconsin Elections Commission has chosen as an indicator of ineligibility.

As of November 13, 2020, the Wisvote database listed only 802 total “incompetents.” A review of county-by-county information reveals that this number should be much higher, perhaps around 5,000, Thomas More attorneys said.

“WEC committed elder abuse with the elimination of Special Voting Deputies in 2020 and now with their outright refusal to maintain the WisVote system,” said state Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), who chairs the Assembly Campaign and Elections Committee investigating the 2020 elections. “Once again, Meagan Wolfe and her data team cannot provide a clear process for clerks to remove voters deemed incompetent by the courts. Wisconsinites have lost confidence in WEC managing voter records.”

Special Counsel Michael Gableman’s report last month on election law violations included alleged abuses of nursing home residents. Gableman’s presentation featured video interviews with cognitively impaired seniors in continuing care centers across Wisconsin, residents who were manipulated or forced into voting despite being ruled mentally incapacitated, according to reports.

Walt Jankowski, a resident at a Waunakee long-term care facility, was found to have requested a mail-in ballot, filling it out before Election Day. His son asked the city clerk how his father, who doesn’t speak or write, could give consent to do so.

“The clerk said that pointing is acceptable, or an eye wink would do as well,” Gableman explained.

Maryl Barrett, 104, “Is not capable of remaining awake” and is in hospice, her family said. She stopped taking memory enhancement medication long ago. Yet, state election records show she voted in recent elections.

The special counsel’s findings support an investigation last year by the Racine County Sheriff’s Department alleging the Elections Commission “shattered” state election law. WEC during the pandemic barred special voting deputies from Wisconsin’s nursing homes and assisted care facilities. SVDs are specially trained to help eligible citizens vote. Instead, the sheriff’s department investigation, like Gableman’s probe, found untrained nursing home staff were illegally assisting residents in filling out their ballots. In eight cases, severely cognitively impaired residents were allowed to vote, even though courts had declared them ineligible to do so.

The Sheriff’s Department recommended criminal charges against WEC commissioners, but the Racine County District Attorney said she lacked jurisdiction because WEC is based in Madison.

A Wisconsin Elections Commission official did not return Wisconsin Spotlight’s request for comment. Local elections officials could not be reached for comment.

Watch the video testimony of Sandra Klitzke and Linda Goodwin, Klitzke’s daughter and legal guardian, here.

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