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Wisconsin Spotlight | June 10, 2020

By M.D. Kittle 

MADISON — With less than five months before Election Day, a group of petitioners is asking the Wisconsin Elections Commission to make clear that the practice of ballot harvesting is illegal in Wisconsin. 

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) this week submitted the rules petition on behalf of Ardis Cerny, Annette Kuglitsch, Jayne Gohr, Barbara Struck and Christopher Kliesmet — from Dodge, Milwaukee, Ozaukee and Waukesha counties. 

Ballot harvesting is the practice of allowing a third party — in many cases, political activists and operatives — to collect voters’ ballots and turn them in to polling stations. In some states where the practice is legal, such as California, activists collect ballots and drop them off in en masse. 

Before California’s 2016 ballot harvesting law, only family members or individuals living with the voter were allowed to drop off mail ballots. Now, anyone, including political operatives, are free to collect and turn in ballots. 

“In 2018, despite holding substantial leads on Election Day, many Republican candidates in California saw their advantages shrink, and then disappear, as late-arriving Democratic votes were counted in the weeks following the election,” Fox News reported.  Many observers pointed to the Democrats’ use of ballot harvesting as a key to their success in the elections.

In North Carolina, an illegal ballot harvesting operation by a Republican operative in 2019 resulted in criminal charges and forced a special election. 

The practice is specifically banned in other states. 

Under Wisconsin law, only voters are allowed to request absentee ballots and voters are responsible for returning the ballot. The law includes a few exceptions, specifically detailed.

WILL, on behalf of the petitioners, is asking the Wisconsin Elections Commission to promulgate a rule that makes clear:

  • Third parties cannot request an absentee ballot on behalf of a voter
  • Third parties cannot collect and submit absentee ballots on behalf of a voter

“We can expect significant interest in absentee voting in 2020. This can be a positive development given the pandemic. But the Wisconsin Elections Commission should make clear that it is the responsibility and right of voters, not third parties, to request and submit ballots,” said Lucas Vebber, deputy council of the Milwaukee-based public interest law firm. 

The Wisconsin Elections Commission is required to consider the rules petition and either begin the rulemaking process or provide a response explaining why they are rejecting the petition.

WILL and the Elections Commission are already embroiled in a lawsuit over a key voter integrity case. The Wisconsin Supreme Court earlier this month decided it will hear a case on whether the state’s elections regulator has to clean up Wisconsin’s voter rolls — filled with the registrations of some 130,000 voters suspected to have moved. 

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