MADISON — Allegations of severely cognitively impaired senior citizens being forced or manipulated to vote in last year’s elections have been more common than Attorney General Josh Kaul’s office would like to admit.
A Racine County Sheriff’s Department investigation alleges the Wisconsin Elections Commission “shattered” state election law by suspending the Special Voting Deputies (SPD) requirement over much of the pandemic, including during the hotly contested 2020 presidential election.
SPDs assist residential care and nursing home residents with voting. In the absence of the deputies, nursing home staff members took over the job, as directed by WEC — in violation of election law.
The sheriff’s department probe found eight long-term care facility residents who were or are severely cognitively impaired that voted in last year’s 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.
The alleged abuses occurred at Ridgewood Care Center. Investigators followed up on a complaint of a woman, identified as Judy. She said her mother, who was in a state of steep mental decline at the time, was assisted by a staff member in casting an absentee ballot. The family said the elderly woman had not asked for an absentee ballot. The families of the other seven residents told investigators their loved ones didn’t have the cognitive ability to vote or request a ballot. Many hadn’t voted since 2012.
“An activities aid said she was informed that if the resident didn’t have mental clarity (to vote) they were instructed to point them at the TV, turn on the news and come back in a day or two to see if they were lucid enough to vote,” Luell said.
In suspending SVD access, Elections commissioners claimed they were following federal and state guidance restricting visitors at long-term care facilities during the pandemic. But guidance cannot supersede election law, the sheriff’s department said.
The sheriff called on Kaul to open a statewide investigation. State Department of Justice spokeswoman Gillian Drummond told reporters that DOJ is “currently not aware of similar allegations anywhere else in Wisconsin.”
Two Empower Wisconsin readers said they experienced the same abuse. One reader said her mother-in-law’s absentee ballot was filled out by an employee at a nursing home in Sheboygan Falls.
“Only one Nursing home employee in her room filled out her ballot. She was not comprehending what was going on,” the reader wrote. “We inquired about how WE could help her vote and found out later one person helped her without our knowledge or permission.”
Another reader said her father, who in 2015 was declared incompetent because of vascular and mixed dementia, was put in a similar position. She caught the nursing home before her father “voted,” but she discovered on myvote.wi.gov that someone had voted for him in every election since 2016.
“I did reach out to my county’s DA who referred me to the City police department of Monroe Wis. I do have an appointment set up for this Monday to speak to a detective,” the concerned daughter told Wisconsin Spotlight. “I have felt like a little mouse in the room feeling like I knew this was wrong but I wasn’t sure who to speak to about it. When I saw the news press from the Racine Sheriff’s dept. I knew I had to speak up.”
Conservative talk show host Dan O’Donnell has documented several cases of alleged voter manipulation in the year following the 2020 presidential election in which Democrat Joe Biden narrowly defeated Republican Donald Trump in battleground Wisconsin. In one case, a man named Paul said his elderly mother, who has dementia and lives in a nursing home in Brookfield, voted 11 times since he had her right to vote legally stricken in 2015.
“I’m calling fraud,” the daughter said, noting that her mother’s ballot was illegally counted after she died a few weeks before the November election. “There is no way she could have voted herself or even with help.”
Another family said their loved one filled out an absentee ballot even though her dementia had progressed to the point where she could no longer speak English.
“She had regressed to only speaking German the last six months,” a family member said. “There’s just no way she could have voted. This is fraud, pure and simple.”
Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling shares that belief.
“This needs the Attorney General’s attention. He should launch an immediate investigation into the WEC and the harm they have done to all these individuals and restore integrity and trust in our election system,” the sheriff said.