Wisconsin DOJ investigates voter fraud stunt as election officials debate absentee rules

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Madison, Wis. — With a few clicks of the mouse this week, a Conservative activist disrupted Wisconsin’s election system ahead of the Aug. 9 primary.

Harry Waite of Dover, Wis., said he requested absentee ballots to name two high-profile politicians be sent to his own address Trying to show voter fraud is easy. He contacted local officials Wednesday about what he had done and demanded immediate changes, then told the number of people he believed to be a serious vulnerability.

The stunt showed that a person and a computer or smartphone could shock a state’s election system and force election officials to make changes to a state’s absentee voting procedures – and whether doing so would make it harder to vote.

It also caught the attention of law enforcement. A spokesman for Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul (D) announced Friday that his office is investigating the case after consulting with Racine County’s top prosecutor.

The state election commission – a body equally divided between Democrats and Republicans – held an emergency meeting Thursday night to discuss what to do. The Republican president, Don Millis, asked whether changes could or should not be made to MyVote Wisconsin, the state’s online election portal.

Millis said he is concerned that Vett’s fraudulent ballot requests could inspire others to do the same. Commissioners have no easy way to stop this, other than by letting the public know that fraudsters will quickly be caught and prosecuted.

MyVote allows anyone to view a voter using their name and date of birth. The person can then request an absentee ballot under that person’s name and send it anywhere – a function that is a way for voters who are temporarily away from home to vote.

Waite said he logged into MyVote Wisconsin on Tuesday and recorded the names and dates of birth of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) and Racine Mayor Corey Mason (D) — two officials with whom he clashed repeatedly, especially by voting. on related issues. Posing as him, he asked for his ballots to be sent to his home.

Waite said he received Mason’s ballot on Friday, three days after making the request and provided a photo of it. He said he was planning to return it to the city clerk without opening it.

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Most voters will need to provide a copy of a photo ID card the first time they request an absentee ballot. Under state law, voters who say they are No need to provide ID for being confined to their homes due to age or disability. The wait marked itself as indefinitely limited.

Requesting a ballot through MyVote results in the voter’s municipal clerk receiving an email. The clerk can check with the voter to make sure the request is valid and make the final decision on whether to send the ballot.

Barry Burden, director of the Center for Election Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said anyone engaging in such activities would be caught because fraudulent requests would be discovered only when the original voter requested an absentee ballot or showed up to the polls. Burden said he was not aware of any such plans as Vets.

He said that although the electoral system is not perfect, after several reviews of recent elections, there are no signs of widespread fraud.

“There are no easy solutions,” Burden said. “Running elections is complex and there are many different needs that have to be met. If the public expects perfection or policy-makers expect perfection, they are going to be disappointed. It’s not achievable.”

But with some supporters of former President Donald Trump clinging to the false belief that the 2020 election was stolen, Waite’s move could inspire others to engage in similar activities. Burden said it would force election officials to decide whether to change their practices.

The commissioners said shutting down MyVote would do little if anything to prevent the type of fraud that state laws allow for voters to request absentee ballots in person, by mail or email.

“There are people who want us to shut down MyVote for this purpose [of requesting absentee ballots], that’s when you just need to start sending emails,” Millis said. “You can take the list you bought and just email the clerks telling them to start sending ballots. It will be easy – just as easy, probably as easy as doing it on MyVote.”

Voter fraud is rare in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Last year, the Wisconsin Commission identified 41 instances of potential voter fraud from primaries and elections in late 2020 and early 2021 – a modest amount compared to millions of votes cast.

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The commission voted Thursday to remind clerks that they need to tell prosecutors when they see signs of fraud. It also agreed to mail postcards to voters who had absentee ballots sent to an address other than their home address. That mailing will go to about 4,000 voters, giving them a chance to contact officials if they don’t request a vote.

The commission was united on those votes, but Democrats said the main way to prevent future problems is to wait. Some of them became impatient with discussions about the site and the commission formally urged prosecutors to charge vets.

“From what I got from the reports, Harry Waite admitted to having committed fraud. It seems to me that the way to prevent fraud is to prosecute fraud and not talk about weird issues,” said Mark Thomson, a Democrat on the commission. Told.

Commission President Millis, He said he eventually wants to seek prosecution, but first needed to know what happened and which prosecutor was best suited to handle it.

Waite made fraudulent requests for ballots after arguing with fraud in the 2020 presidential election over the past year and a half. Joe Biden defeated Trump by nearly 21,000 votes in Wisconsin, and those results have been upheld by court decisions and independent reviews.

Vos hired former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to oversee the election last year. Waite helped connect Gableman to other election skeptics, and his brother, Gary Waite, served as an investigator for Gableman.

Democrats have dismissed Gableman’s efforts as a baseless attack on democracy, as he has sought to jail mayors and election officials who claim they are not cooperating with him. Wait, meanwhile, has argued that Vos is not doing enough to address electoral integrity and has repeatedly attacked him. He is assisting Vos’ rival, Adam Stein, in the August 9 primary.

On Friday, Hang said he had heard people say he planned to follow his lead and expect them to influence the state’s absentee voting system.

“I’m getting a lot of support, but you know, talking is cheap,” he said. “So if we start seeing people flooding MyVote with absentee voters, sending them everywhere, I would expect to see this kind of conduct so they can fix what’s really broken.”

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Waits alerted Racine County District Attorney Patricia Hanson (R) and Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmeling in an email shortly after 3 a.m. Wednesday. Later that morning, he emailed Schmeling to inform him that he was at the county fair if he wanted to arrest him.

Schmling initially reacted to the news in a Facebook post and made no mention of Waite’s investigation, but called on the state to change its online voting portal.

Schmling, who was a keynote speaker at a pro-Trump event in 2020, addressed the far-right Constitutional Sheriff and Peace Officers Association this month. There, he competed in a goat-milk contest with former House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and supported his efforts to criminally charge five Wisconsin election commissioners for how they voted in nursing homes. So far, his calls for charges have gone unheeded.

Waite said she spoke to Schmling on Wednesday, a day before the district attorney announced she had asked Schmling to investigate what Waitt had done. Waite said Schmaling thanked him for highlighting the problems with the state’s absentee voting system and told him, “Hell no,” when Waite asked him if he would arrest him.

In a Facebook post, Schmling’s office confirmed Waite’s account of their conversation on Friday, but also said that Schmling told Hang that he didn’t have to do what he did.

“Criminal arrests are not based on late night emails and requests for arrest,” the sheriff’s office wrote in the post.

“Sheriff Schmaling understands Waite’s passion and commitment to honest, open and transparent government, especially as it relates to elections; however, he never allowed or consented to wait for Waits’ actions.”

By Friday, the Attorney General had taken over the investigation. The move came less than 24 hours after Democrats called for action on the Election Commission.

Ann Jacobs, a Democrat on the commission, said, “I’m shocked and annoyed that he thinks it’s something cute when all he’s doing is committing a crime and bragging about it in an attempt to undermine our voting system.” Used to be.” “I appreciate the chair’s willingness to be discreet, but sometimes when people are outright confessed in the newspaper, we don’t really need to go into lengthy analysis on it.”

Emma Brown contributed to this report.

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