Dan O’Donnell makes the case that the early voting events in Madison this Saturday and next are illegal and must be immediately stopped.
September 25, 2020
Special guest perspective by Dan O’Donnell
How brazen have the City of Madison and the Joe Biden presidential campaign gotten about their willful violation of Wisconsin Election Law?
They’re literally advertising it.
“Hey Madison, this year voting early is a walk in the park…literally,” intones a cheerful voice in a radio ad airing on various stations in the city. “On Saturday, September 26th and Saturday, October 3rd, from 9 am to 3 pm, City of Madison poll workers will be in over 200 city parks; registering voters, answering questions about voting, and accepting your completed absentee ballot.”
In other words, City of Madison poll workers will be accepting in-person absentee ballots several weeks before the legally mandated date of October 20th. The Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) is abundantly clear on the fact that in-person early voting cannot begin a day earlier.
“October 20, 2020 [is] the first day that municipal clerks may offer in-person absentee voting in their office or a satellite location,” WEC notes on its website. Since workers will be accepting ballots in person at more than 200 satellite locations in Madison’s public parks, this is a wanton violation of the legally mandated limits on in-person absentee voting.
Voters will be allowed to quite literally cast their ballot in person in a satellite location in front of a poll worker a full 24 days before Wisconsin Law allows for such activity. There is quite simply no justification for this whatsoever. It is a willful violation of both the letter and spirit of the law.
In June, a unanimous Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld 2017 Wis. Act 369—which limited early voting to the 14 days before the Sunday immediately preceding Election Day. That limits in-person absentee voting in the upcoming presidential election to Tuesday, October 20th through Sunday, November 1st. The law is abundantly clear, yet the City of Madison—working with the Biden Campaign—is actively working to violate this law by accepting in-person ballots at satellite locations around the city on both September 26th and October 3rd.
The radio ad for the event makes this intention clear.
“Absentee voters who still need to find a witness can just bring their blank ballot with them and have a poll worker serve as their witness,” the narrator says.
This means that voters will be allowed to quite literally cast their ballot in person in a satellite location in front of a poll worker a full 24 days before Wisconsin Law allows for such activity. There is quite simply no justification for this whatsoever. It is a willful violation of both the letter and spirit of the law.
It might also violate Wisconsin’s general prohibition of ballot harvesting. Under the common definition of the practice as noted by the Washington Post, ballot harvesting exists when “a voter fills out an absentee ballot, seals it in an envelope and does all the required security checks, like signing the back of the envelope so election experts can verify who voted. Then they entrust it to another person, who drops off the ballot at a mail center or ballot drop-off location.”
This is literally what is set to take place in more than 200 parks. A voter will fill out an absentee ballot, seal it him- or herself, and then entrust it to another person who will then drop it off at a ballot drop-off location.
Wisconsin Election Commissioner Mark Thomsen confirmed in a virtual meeting in June that “we know that ballot harvesting is illegal” and that “we know that it doesn’t exist,” but does it?
Here the City of Madison is caught between a legal rock and a hard place. Either its public park locations are not valid polling places and therefore its employees are engaged in illegal ballot harvesting, or they are valid polling places and the City of Madison is engaged in illegal in-person absentee voting.
Even more distressingly, it is doing so in clear collusion with the Joe Biden Presidential Campaign. The ad for the early voting locations notes that it was “paid for by Biden for President” and includes Biden’s voice indicating that “I’m Joe Biden, candidate for President, and I approve this message.”
The City of Madison is caught between a legal rock and a hard place. Either its public park locations are not valid polling places and therefore its employees are engaged in illegal ballot harvesting, or they are valid polling places and the City of Madison is engaged in illegal in-person absentee voting.
Since the ad is plugging an event that is “hosted by the City of Madison,” it is rather obvious that the City and the Biden Campaign have coordinated on its message in potential violation of both state and federal prohibitions and limits on coordinated campaign messaging.
Even though the ad rather hilariously claims that the early voting events “non-partisan” and that “all are welcome,” the Biden Campaign clearly views them as directly beneficial to Biden’s candidacy and not Trump’s. If it didn’t, why would it spend money on a radio ad to promote an event that wouldn’t benefit it in some way?
If these two early vote events are in fact in-kind contributions from the City of Madison to the Biden Campaign as they rather obviously seem intended to be, then any money spent on paying poll workers to staff them and the “vote yard signs you’re used to seeing at your polling place” would be potentially unlawful.
The poll workers themselves could also be in potential violation of Wisconsin Statute 230.40(1), which provides that “no person holding any position in the classified civil service may during the hours when on duty engage in any form of political activity calculated to favor or improve the chances of any political party or any person seeking or attempting to hold partisan political office.”
The Biden Campaign is paying to promote this event, so it clearly sees this as an activity that is “calculated to favor or improve” its chances at victory. The City of Madison is easily the most reliably Democratic city in Wisconsin, and Biden is likely to get an even bigger percentage of its vote than the 66.7% Democrat Hillary Clinton won in 2016.
Since it is likely that the City of Madison has been working with the Biden Campaign to promote two events that clearly benefit the Biden Campaign and willfully violate statutory prohibitions on early voting before October 20th, the Wisconsin Elections Commission—the agency that bills itself on its website as “administering Wisconsin’s election laws”—has a duty to enforce those laws and put a stop to these illegal early voting events.