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Wisconsin Spotlight | Sept. 19, 2022

MADISON — There could be thousands of court-ordered incompetent individuals on Wisconsin’s voter rolls because the Wisconsin Elections Commission refuses to remove them, says an attorney for an elections integrity watchdog.

Erick Kaardal, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, told a recent hearing of the Assembly Campaigns and Elections Committee that investigators suspect as many as 20,000 people may be ineligible to vote because of incompetency orders but remain active on the WisVote database. He said WEC has thus far removed only 800 to 1,000 of those individuals declared by courts incompetent.

The Thomas More Society and the Wisconsin Voter Alliance want WEC to remove all court-ordered incompetent individuals from the voter rolls.

Following allegations that severely cognitively impaired nursing home residents were allowed to or made to vote in the 2020 elections, Thomas More Society attorneys filed petitions in 13 Wisconsin counties to obtain guardianship information. Kaardal said the investigation has found more data to support claims of alleged violations committed by state election officials.

Recent information obtained from Wisconsin’s County Registers in Probate reveal a massive underreporting of wards under “no vote” guardianship orders by WisVote, according to Kaardal.

“The investigation has uncovered the likelihood that more than 95 percent of Wisconsin individuals under court ordered ‘no vote’ guardianships are not recorded as such, and therefore may have illegally voted – or had votes cast in their names,” the Wisconsin Voter Alliance stated in a press release in late July.

WEC spokesman Riley Vetterkind said the commission on an ongoing basis receives notices of voting eligibility concerning individuals declared by a court as not competent to register or to vote in an election. But it’s up to local election clerks to deactivate ineligible voters from the voter rolls.

Wisconsin law states court orders on incompetency are to be communicated to “the election officials or agency charged … with the responsibility for determining challenges to registration and voting that may be directed against that elector.”

“While not required, the Wisconsin Elections Commission centrally compiles this information to facilitate the work of clerks,” Vetterkind said. “This process is reliant on court notices being sent to the WEC by county registers in probate in a timely manner.”

The public information officer said WEC is unable to verify the data behind the Thomas More Society’s review of court records. He said the investigators could have a “flawed understanding of the data or may be using outdated information.”

“Again, many of the records we receive of people adjudicated incompetent are not registered to vote, and therefore do not have an associated voter record for clerks to deactivate,” Vetterkind said.

As Wispolitics reported, the Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition in a letter refutes Kaardal’s claims, and argues being under guardianship doesn’t automatically disqualify a ward from voting.

“Wisconsin has a limited guardianship system, which means the court can decide the ward may retain some civil rights (like the right to vote),” the letter states.

The advocacy group also says statewide data on the number of people under guardianship and the terms of their guardianship is not available to the public. But it was until recently. Anyone can pay $12,500 for the Wisconsin voter list — and many political groups do. That list includes individuals determined to be incompetent by a court. WEC took administrative action earlier this year and made that information available only to election clerks.

Lawsuits have followed a Racine County Sheriff’s Department investigation last year that found the Elections Commission broke election law in its decisions barring special voting deputies (SVDs) from nursing homes during the pandemic, opening the door to voting manipulation. The sheriff’s department probe found eight long-term care facility residents who were or are severely cognitively impaired that voted in the 2020 presidential election. In many cases, the individuals could not even recognize their family members, according to Racine County Sgt. Michael Luell, lead investigator in the case.

In one lawsuit, Paul Archambault claims his mother was ruled legally incompetent in 2015 by the Waukesha County Court. The elderly woman was diagnosed with a degenerative brain disorder. Archambault was named his mother’s legal guardian. Her rights to register or to vote in an election were revoked in full in the Guardianship Order, and “may not be exercised by any person,”  the lawsuit states. Archambault was unaware of any attempts to assist his mother vote until December 2020, after the November 2020 presidential election. He checked the WisVote website and discovered his mother had “cast ballots in the August 11, 2020, Partisan Primary and the November 2020 General Election.”

State Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), who chairs the Campaign and Elections Committee, and Sen. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), have asked lawmakers to sign on to a letter demanding WEC “notify all municipal clerks to remove citizens marked as incompetent by CCAP under guardianship, and restrict them from receiving a ballot in the 2022 fall election and in future elections.” Sixteen Republican lawmakers had signed on as of Friday.

WEC has been slow to remove ineligible voters. In August 2021, the agency finally removed more than 200,000 inactive voters from the state’s rolls — nine months after November’s hotly contested presidential election and two years after election integrity advocates urged the commission to act.

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