Bogus ballot requests latest issue in Wisconsin elections

Jul 29, 2022, 12:23 AM | Updated: 3:16 pm
FILE - In this March 16, 2022 file photo, Wisconsin Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos speaks to...

FILE - In this March 16, 2022 file photo, Wisconsin Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos speaks to reporters in Madison, Wis. Vos launched an investigation into voter fraud last summer that has cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars but so far turned up nothing. (AP Photo Scott Bauer File)

(AP Photo Scott Bauer File)

              FILE - Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, left, stands next to 16-year-old Aspen Morris at the Rainbow Pride flag raising Wednesday, June 1, 2022 at the Capitol in Madison, Wis.  GOP legislators passed sweeping election law changes that would have limited ballot access earlier this year only to see Evers veto the package.  (Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP)
              FILE - In this Saturday, May 21, 2022 file photo, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Ramthun speaks during the Republican State Convention in Middleton, Wis.  Ramthun has centered his gubernatorial campaign around decertifying Biden's win in the state.    (Ebony Cox/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP, File)
              FILE - In this March 16, 2022 file photo, Wisconsin Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos speaks to reporters in Madison, Wis. Vos launched an investigation into voter fraud last summer that has cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars but so far turned up nothing.  (AP Photo Scott Bauer File)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Harry Wait was so determined to show Wisconsin’s election system is vulnerable to fraud that he logged onto the state website, requested an absentee ballot in the state Assembly speaker’s name and had it delivered to himself. Then he ran to a sheriff to tell him that he had committed fraud.

Now Wait faces the possibility of criminal charges in a strange new chapter in a chaotic, seemingly endless fight over election administration in the key battleground state.

The fight began after Joe Biden won the state in 2020, defeating former President Donald Trump by nearly 21,000 votes. Trump has refused to accept the loss, insisting the election was marred by fraud. Multiple reviews and court decisions have upheld Biden’s victory, but Trump’s supporters have spent the months since promoting his baseless claims that Biden somehow stole the election.

Republican state Rep. Tim Ramthun has centered his gubernatorial campaign around decertifying Biden’s win in the state. GOP legislators passed sweeping election law changes earlier this year only to see Democratic Gov. Tony Evers veto the package. The conservative-controlled state Supreme Court in July outlawed absentee ballot drop boxes.

That’s not all. A Republican sheriff last year called for charging elections officials for refusing to send special assistants into nursing homes to help residents vote absentee at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. And under pressure from Trump, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos launched an investigation into voter fraud last summer that has cost taxpayers more than $1 million but so far turned up nothing.

It hasn’t been nearly enough for the state GOP’s hardliners. Nine Republican legislators, including Vos and state Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, face primary challengers who say the incumbents haven’t done enough to bolster election security.

Enter Harry Wait. He’s the president of the Racine-based group HOT Government, which has alleged fraud in the 2020 election. He told The Associated Press that he visited the state’s election website and ordered what he says were 10 absentee ballots in the names of other people, including Vos and Racine Mayor Cory Mason, and had them delivered to his own address.

He quickly contacted Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling and told him all about it, saying he had proven the state’s system is vulnerable to fraud.

Wait wasn’t alone. Adrianne Melby, of Burlington, told the AP that she decided to see if she could get an absentee ballot sent to a different address. She had a friend visit the website, order a ballot in Melby’s name and have it sent to the friend’s address. Melby told Schmaling what she had done as well.

Wisconsin law prohibits people from making false statements to obtain an absentee ballot and from impersonating a voter. Penalties can include fines of up to $10,000 and three-and-a-half years in prison. Wait and Melby told the AP that Schmaling promised he wouldn’t arrest them or refer charges.

“I asked him if he was going to arrest me and he said no,” Wait said. “The conversation was fairly short. He was glad that I had opened this up and revealed it.”

Melby, for her part, said that Schmaling told her that neither she nor her friend committed a crime because Melby gave her friend consent to obtain a ballot in her name.

Schmaling is a Republican activist who campaigned for Trump. He called for prosecutors to charge five of the state Election Commission’s six members over their decision in March 2020 — when COVID-19 was rampant and before vaccines were available — not to send special voting deputies into Wisconsin nursing homes to help residents vote. No one was ultimately prosecuted and Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul called Schmaling’s demands a “disgraceful publicity stunt.”

Schmaling said in a statement Friday that he’s working to highlight what he called the vulnerability that Wait and Melby found on the website. He said Kaul has ordered state Justice Department agents to investigate how people can obtain ballots on the website using others’ information. Justice Department spokeswoman Gillian Drummond confirmed that the agency is investigating but declined to comment further.

Racine County District Attorney Patricia Hanson didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.

Vos, whose district includes Racine County, said what Wait did amounts to voter fraud.

“His actions are sad,” Vos said. “If election integrity means anything, it means we all have to follow the law — Republicans and Democrats alike.”

The state Election Commission, made up of three Democrats and three Republicans, held an emergency meeting on Thursday night to address Wait’s and Melby’s activities.

Administrator Meagan Wolfe told commissioners that the website is no more vulnerable to fraud than a traditional mail request for an absentee ballot. She also stressed that the state’s voter registration database would flag anyone who tried to vote using another person’s absentee ballot. The commissioners ultimately voted to discuss referring charges to prosecutors at a future meeting, perhaps as early as next week.

“People who think it’s cute to commit a crime to undermine elections, that needs to be stopped and it needs to be stopped now. And waiting implies there’s something appropriate about it,” Democratic commissioner Ann Jacobs said during the meeting.

The commission also decided to send postcards to about 4,000 voters who requested their absentee ballots for the 2022 election be sent to addresses that aren’t their own, in order to verify their intent. Spokesman Riley Vetterkind said that’s not an indication of fraud, as voters often ask to have ballots sent to vacation homes or other places they stay.

Wait told the AP that he knew what he did was a crime but that he did it “for the good of the republic.” The commission is coming after him because he exposed its inability to protect elections, he said.

Melby said that if what she did was illegal, prosecutors should go after all ballot harvesters in the 2020 election. Pressed for details on who was harvesting ballots, Melby told a reporter to watch “2,000 Mules,” a pro-Trump documentary that falsely alleges widespread voter fraud.

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political scientist Anthony Chergosky said Wait’s and Melby’s actions were “extremely irresponsible.” They showed fraud is possible but not that it occurs on a scale that can affect election results, he said.

They also demonstrated the extent of Trump’s influence on the Republican Party and unending efforts to undo the 2020 election, he said.

“It’s a logical outcome of the rhetoric President Trump and others in his party have engaged in,” Chergosky said. “The practical purpose of this is to sow distrust in the outcome of the 2020 election. The Republican Party is not ready to turn the page on it.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Much of drought-plagued West Coast faces salmon fishing ban

The surreal and desperate scramble boosted the survival rate of the hatchery-raised fish, but still it was not enough to reverse the declining stocks in the face of added challenges.
1 day ago
UCLA's Jaime Jaquez Jr. (24) shoots while defended by Gonzaga's Rasir Bolton (45) in the first half...
Associated Press

Gonzaga beats UCLA 79-76 in Sweet 16 on Strawther’s shot

Julian Strawther hit a 3-pointer with 6 seconds left to answer a 3-pointer by UCLA's Amari Bailey, lifting Gonzaga to a wild 79-76 NCAA Tournament win over UCLA Thursday night in the Sweet 16.
1 day ago
Associated Press

Officials: Safety device, human error derailed Wash. train

A safety device failed, knocking a train off the tracks last week, spilling diesel after leaving an oil refinery in Anacortes.
1 day ago
File - Credit cards as seen July 1, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. A low credit score can hurt your ability...
Associated Press

What the Fed rate increase means for your credit card bill

The Federal Reserve raised its key rate by another quarter point Wednesday, bringing it to the highest level in 15 years as part of an ongoing effort to ease inflation by making borrowing more expensive.
2 days ago
police lights distracted drivers shooting...
Associated Press

Authorities: Missing mom, daughter in Washington found dead

A missing Washington state woman and her daughter were found dead Wednesday, according to police.
2 days ago
Associated Press

Google’s artificially intelligent ‘Bard’ set for next stage

Google announced Tuesday it's allowing more people to interact with “ Bard,” the artificially intelligent chatbot the company is building to counter Microsoft's early lead in a pivotal battleground of technology.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.
SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!
safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Bogus ballot requests latest issue in Wisconsin elections