Sorry. We’ve had some technical issues with the blog for the last few days. It appears to be healthy now. Here is my column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday. Given the disappointing election results, it’s fairly moot.
We have reached the culmination of another tempestuous election season with the capstone of Election Day. Self-governance imposes on us the responsibility of enduring the withering assault of political campaigns before choosing who will carry our priorities into government. Irrespective of the outcome of the election, our civic responsibility is to ensure that our elections are free, fair, and secure. We have work to do in Wisconsin.
The reason that some Democrats questioned the results of the 2016 election and some Republicans questioned the results of the 2020 election is because it is too easy to defraud our electoral process in many districts. America’s history is replete with examples of election fraud and cheating. There is little to suggest that the human condition has advanced to the point to think that such fraud is no longer possible. The fact that so many of our elections are decided by so few votes makes the consequences of even a little bit of fraud too dire to tolerate.
Wisconsin’s election laws are fairly good compared to many other states’. Voters are required to prove their identities with photo identification; same-day registration helps ensure voter access; and state law requires the regular purging of voter rolls. Unfortunately, the execution of the laws has been uneven and the holes have been exploited by bad actors. Many of the holes in our election process are the result of unclear or ambiguous laws that leave great discretion to state and local election officials.
As a general theme, the Legislature should take up the effort to codify specific election rules to ensure that all of Wisconsin’s voters have equal and fair access irrespective of their address. Specifically, the legislature should address the rules regarding early voting. If I had my druthers, I would severely curtail early voting to make Election Day great again, but the public has come to enjoy the flexibility of early voting. If we are to have it, it should be the same for everyone. The Legislature should set standard open hours for early in-person voting and restrict it to established municipal or county facilities like city halls or court buildings. The purpose is to ensure that every voter in Wisconsin knows when and where they can cast an early in-person ballot.
In respect to early voting, the Legislature should also prohibit drop boxes of any kind. Every early in-person ballot should be received, checked, and witnessed by an accountable election official. Not only does such a procedure provide a check against fraudulent ballots, but it also ensures that legal votes are not discarded due to clerical errors.
Speaking of clerical errors, the Legislature should also completely prohibit the counting of any mail-in ballots that are not legally completed and witnessed. This should not be left to the discretion of clerks.
Events last week exposed another hole in the mail-in ballot process when a Milwaukee election official illegally ordered three military absentee ballots to the address of Representative Janel Brandtjen. Current law does not require military voters to register to vote or provide identification to request a ballot. This must be remedied.
The Legislature should also prohibit ballot harvesting. This is simply when people — usually political operatives — collect people’s early ballots and submit them en masse. The issue is that there is no security to ensure that a voter’s ballot is cast and it allows for bad actors to intimidate voters. While homogenizing early voting laws will correct for some of this, the Legislature should affirmatively prohibit this practice. There is other work to do. The Legislature should also prohibit private citizens from administering or funding our elections. All elections should be administered by accountable public officials. They should also prohibit the practice of central counting which is more susceptible to fraud or the perception of fraud.
The biggest lift for the Legislature is to decide what to do with the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The WEC has performed abominably through the pandemic with partisan and illegal actions. The Legislature should abolish it completely and replace it with a bipartisan bicameral legislative committee. That way elected officials will be accountable. By codifying much of the electoral process into statute, the actual duties of such a committee would be severely curtailed.
Good elections require a balance of ballot access, ballot security, and transparency. The end goal must be that we have confidence that everyone who is legally allowed to vote can do so, and everyone who is not legally allowed to vote cannot.