The Wisconsin Elections Commission will have a special teleconference today to discuss the final format of the absentee ballot request mailing that will be sent to many registered voters. This meeting comes one day after a last-minute attempt by GOP Rep. Rick Gundrum of Slinger to derail the absentee ballot process, saying that the effort is too expensive, and asking other legislators to sign on to a letter asking the commission to abandon its plans.

Meagan Wolfe, Elections Commission Administrator, went through the changes that have been made to the mailing since the last meeting. The changes were fairly minor and were mostly done at the request of the commission and as a result of usability testing to help to clarify the process.

The commission also addressed some of the wording in regard to returning the ballot request to clarify where and when the ballot request must be received. After a great deal of discussion on whether the letters should be forwarded on a change of address or not, the commission voted 6-0 to not forward the mails, and to approve the wording of the letters and the applications, so the commission gave final approval to sending out the letters. 

The commission then took up the petition from WILL to write an administrative rule to make it clear that only an elector may request an absentee ballot (thereby making ballot harvesting illegal). Commissioner Knudsen moved to start an emergency procedure for this purpose. Commissioner Thomsen argued that the law on this is already clear, and that there is no emergency to be addressed. He also said that if there is an issue with this it must be addressed by the legislature. He called the issue of ballot harvesting "made up stuff". He called for denying the request. 

Commissioner Spindell suggested that there is a quickly increasing number of absentee ballots being filed and that he does not believe the Governor and the Legislature would be able to agree on legislation. He also took issue with the claim that there is no voting fraud issue in Wisconsin. Predictably the arguments started falling along party lines. 

The discussion became heated between Spindell and Jacobs over Spindell's claim that there have been cases of ballot harvesting in "the projects" and Jacobs' claim that the use of that term was a dog whistle.  The discussion fell into issues of what the intention of the law on this actually was, and whether the commission should attempt to fix that. The Republicans on the committee felt that the law is clear and that, for example, it is technically illegal for a person to take a ballot in for their spouse, or to have someone else take the mail to the mailbox. The Democratic members clearly felt that the new rule would make many people guilty of a felony for doing things that have always been acceptted.

The vote on starting an emergency rule-making process went 3-3 along party lines, so there will not be an emergency rule process on ballot harvesting.

A discussion then started on whether the commission should make a statement that ballots may be submitted through a family member. Chair Jacobs suggested that there is no legal justification for doing this and staff was asked for information on what the actual policy is as being enforced. The guidance in a commission FAQ states that another person may deliver a ballot. The initial pass at this was unsuccessful but there was more discussion revolving around whether the current law covered the situation sufficiently.

Finally a motion was made to deny the request for the rulemaking was denied. This passed 6-0. It is likely that WILL will now start litigation on having a rule passed.

The commission them moved into closed session to consider current litigation.

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Steve Hanson

Steve is a web designer and recently retired from running the hosting and development company Cruiskeen Consulting LLC. Cruiskeen Consulting LLC is the parent company of Wis.Community, and publication of this site continues after his retirement.

Steve is a member of LION Publishers and the Local Media Consortium, is active in Health Dunn Right, and is vice-president of the League of Women Voters of the greater Chippewa Valley

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