Election 2020

GOP Challenges Madison, Wisc., 'Ballot Collection Day' in City Parks

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Two of the most important Republican politicians in Wisconsin are warning the city clerk of Madison in a cease-and-desist letter not to hold a “ballot collection” day in city parks on Saturday because the “threat that this procedure poses to ballot integrity is manifestly obvious.”

Misha Tseytlin, the former state solicitor general, wrote the letter on behalf of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.

City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl defended the program, saying there was nothing illegal about it. It wasn’t ballot harvesting because the people collecting the ballots were “deputized” poll workers and can legally receive ballots. Nor is it “early voting” because there will not be any blank ballots provided to voters who show up.

But Republicans aren’t convinced.


“Poll workers will attempt to collect absentee ballots at over 200 unsecured, outdoor locations, and only deliver these ballots to the City Clerk’s Office at the end of the six-hour campaign,” Tseytlin, of the law firm Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders, wrote in the letter to Witzel-Behl. “There could be no justification for this ad hoc, unsecure, and unlawful approach that your campaign appears to be creating.”

The statutes cited in the cease-and-desist letter state the ballots are to be returned to the clerk’s office, said Michael Haas, Madison city attorney and former staff council for the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

“In this case they’re to be dropped off to sworn election officials,” he said.

This is not the same thing and the clerk knows it. And given that it’s Madison, Wisconsin — one of the most liberal cities in the United States — perhaps it would be fair to ask the clerk how many of those “sworn election officials” are Republicans?

Republican Party officials and election observers were invited to participate in the event to make sure proper procedures are followed, as long as they follow predetermined guidelines such as maintaining 6 feet of distance from voters as they interact with poll workers.

“It’s hard to see this as anything but an attempt to discourage people from participating in the election,” Haas said.

Ballot security takes a backseat to encouraging people to vote. There’s nothing wrong with that, except when it threatens the integrity of the election. And anyone who can’t see that “ballot collection” is less secure than physically handing the ballot in at the clerk’s office doesn’t deserve to be in charge of an election.

The idea of holding events in city parks to register voters, give them information, and answer their questions, is a good one. But it’s also an opportunity for fraud that didn’t exist before.

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