A bill advancing through the Wisconsin Assembly that would prevent election workers from “curing” mistakes on absentee ballots represents a much-needed reform in the Badger State.
“The Assembly’s Committee on Campaigns and Elections on Wednesday advanced a plan, Assembly Bill 198, that would clarify that only voters or their witnesses can correct a mistake on an absentee ballot,” The Center Square reported.
Current law requires those voting by absentee ballot to sign a certificate, in the presence of a witness, that is included with the ballot.
“By completing and signing the certificate, the voter certifies he or she is entitled to vote in the election and that the voter completed his or her absentee ballot in the presence of the witness,” the state’s Legislative Reference Bureau explained in an analysis of AB 198.
The witness includes his or her name, address and signature.
Current law provides that if a municipal clerk receiving a ballot determines a certificate is improperly filled out, he or she may, but is not required to, return the ballot so it can be corrected.
Under AB 198, clerks would be required to return the ballots and post a notification of the defect online for voters to see.
The bill explicitly states, “The municipal clerk may not correct a defect in the certificate.”
Republican state Rep. Donna Rozar argued in favor of AB 198, saying, “Because [absentee voting] is a privilege, there’s got to be some responsibility that the voter has to exercise that privilege.”
“And I think that responsibility is to do it right and legally,” she added.
The Center Square reported, “Election workers cured many more ballots last fall than ever before. The Wisconsin Elections Commission confirmed this in its post-election report.”
“The statewide absentee ballot rejection rate was exceptionally low in November — 0.2% statewide compared to 1.8% in April 2020,” the commission wrote in January.
Dan O’Donnell, writing for the MacIver Institute, noted, “Just 4,270 absentee ballots out of 1,969,274 cast were rejected — a rate of 0.2%. This defies both logic and common sense.”
O’Donnell further highlighted that just 1,434 ballots (0.07 percent) were rejected because of insufficient ballot certification.
“This is nearly impossible to explain, especially since the ballot rejection rate was 1.8% just seven months earlier in Wisconsin’s spring election, when a then-record 1,101,474 absentee ballots were cast,” he said.
“Despite a 78% increase in the number of absentee ballots cast in November, there was a 78% decrease in the number of ballots that were rejected.”
O’Donnell believes there was apparently “a concerted effort to count as many ballots as possible without regard to whether they were correctly filled out.”
He recounted that a similar phenomenon occurred during the 2018 gubernatorial race.
“Following a sudden influx of absentee votes in Milwaukee that propelled [Democratic] Governor Tony Evers past [then-Republican incumbent] Scott Walker … the absentee ballot rejection rate suddenly dropped to 0.2%.”
“What exactly would be the odds that ballots suddenly stopped getting rejected in the two statewide races in which unpopular Republicans (Walker and Donald Trump) were on the ballot and both lost because of huge increases in absentee voting?” he asked.
The election was a wild ride, with Trump holding a solid lead on election night only to see it evaporate by the next morning, thanks in large part to Milwaukee County.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel headlined the day after the election: “A late night, race-altering results and a police escort were all part of a surreal election overnight in Wisconsin.”
“Milwaukee County’s lump-sum contribution turned the race on its side. To that point, Donald Trump held a lead of 109,000 votes over Joe Biden, but once Milwaukee County absentee and early-voting ballots were uploaded into the system, Biden took a lead of 11,000 votes,” the paper reported.
President Trump currently leads Joe Biden in Wisconsin by 109,074 votes.
Nearly 170,000 absentee votes in Milwaukee County are being counted RIGHT NOW. We should have the results around 3:45 a.m.
This could really all come down to Wisconsin
— Tim Elliott NBC15 (@TheTimReport) November 4, 2020
The Center for Tech and Civic Life apparently helped drive those huge absentee ballot numbers in Milwaukee and other cities.
The nonprofit, funded in part by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, gave $6.3 million in grants to five cities in Wisconsin — Milwaukee, Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison and Racine — according to The Associated Press.
In March, the Wisconsin Spotlight reported that Green Bay received a grant of $1.6 million from the organization.
The report alleged that the “grant mentor” overseeing the Green Bay effort, Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein, was given access to absentee ballots.
In an Oct. 7 email, Spitzer-Rubenstein sought to assist Green Bay election officials in “curing” returned absentee ballots.
“Can we help with curing absentee ballots that are missing a signature or witness signature/address?” he wrote to city clerk Kris Teske.
Teske turned down Spitzer-Rubenstein’s offer.
The mayor’s office then intervened.
“The grant mentors would like to meet with you to discuss, further, the ballot curing process. Please let them know when you’re available,” Democratic Mayor Eric Genrich’s chief of staff wrote to Teske.
The city clerk apparently became so frustrated with the pressuring that she went on leave on Oct. 22 (before the election) and has since left Green Bay’s employ.
“I don’t understand how people who don’t have knowledge of the process can tell us how to manage the election,” Teske wrote an email to a Green Bay official before going on leave.
Was this scenario playing out in Milwaukee, Kenosha, Madison and Racine?
The Wisconsin Assembly is on to something. AB 198 should definitely become law.
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