MacIver News Service | August 4, 2011
Supporters on both sides of this month's state senate recall elections are emphasizing the importance of absentee ballot programs. Nowhere is that push more evident than of Wisconsin's college campuses where left-leaning organizations made a concerted effort to get out the youth vote.
For example, Fair Wisconsin, the state LGBT lobby, launched "Vote Naked" earlier this year to register students for absentee ballots for the recall elections.
Fair Wisconsin's push earlier this year was: "Whether you're at your parent's house, your trip abroad, working 24/7 or actually NAKED, you too can participate in these historic elections.... A Students for Fair Wisconsin organizer will come to your door within a few days with a completed absentee ballot request form for you to sign. We'll even deliver your form right to your City Clerk's office."
"The absentee ballot provisions are there for permanent residents, to make sure those otherwise occupied have the ability to cast a vote in elections where they live," said State Senator Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend). "A dorm contract that expires in May or a lease that begins in September does not qualify you to vote on August 9. The law is not there to simply make things easy to cheat."
Using Facebook and other social media tools, Fair Wisconsin targeted students to register to vote absentee.
At UW-River Falls, Fair Wisconsin solicited many students to register to vote absentee. However not all the applications were completed correctly. City Clerk Lu Ann Hecht stated "We received applications where the requester was not registered in River Falls or was not registered at the RiverFalls address listed on the application."
Such errors are not uncommon with third-party absentee vote drives, several clerks told us.
Nevertheless, in River Falls, dozens of students were able to register for an absentee ballot, including 24 students who gave mailing addresses in Minnesota. Of these, 22 registered with phone numbers with a Minnesota area code, one did not provide a phone number, and one gave a North Dakota area code.
Laremy Ellsworth lives in rural Minnesota between the towns of Dover and St. Charles.
On May 9, according to records from the River Falls City Clerk, Ellsworth registered for an absentee ballot for River Falls, WI, using an address 2 blocks north of UW-River Falls. A check of county records indicates he voted once in River Falls during the November 2008 presidential elections. Casual voters like Ellsworth hare the prime targets for absentee vote programs. Organizers generally believe voters like him would be more willing to vote if the process were much simpler.
But should Ellsworth be voting in an August election in Wisconsin?
On May 10th, Ellsworth posted on his facebook wall that he "will be out of this **** hole" in "less than a week." Four days later, Laremy Ellsworth graduated from UW-River Falls.
But, before he left Wisconsin, Elsworth registered to have his absentee ballot mailed to Dover, MN.
In total 22 students who lived in the UW-River Falls dorms, and two UW-River Falls students who lived off campus registered for absentee ballots to be sent to Minnesota. Twenty one of these students had never voted before in a Wisconsin election, and the remaining three, like Ellsworth had only voted in the 2008 presidential election.
"Absentee voters should be reminded that they will face prosecution if they vote in the August 9 election without a permanent residence in the district on that date." said Grothman.
A cross check of the Minnesota voters list with absentee ballot requests from three western Wisconsin campuses found eight voters who requested to vote absentee in the upcoming Wisconsin recalls who are currently registered to vote as Minnesota residents.
Two of those students requesting absentee ballots, Nicholas Gerhard Newman and Frederick Daniel Wolter voted in Minnesota as recently as November 2010.
Under Wisconsin Statutes 12.13 and 12.60, anyone who votes at any election if that person does not meet the necessary residence requirements is guilty of a Class I felony. Under 6.10(8) No person gains a residence in any ward or election district of this state while there for temporary purposes only.
"It is up to the clerks, the Government Accountability Board, the District Attorneys and the Attorney General to make absolutely certain that no one is voting at a college campus who is not a permanent resident there," Grothman said. "This is not a game."