As Wisconsin moves closer to the November election, another legal battle has begun concerning how absentee ballots can be requested and collected.
Rick Esenberg, President and General Counsel for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), announced Monday on WISN-AM’s Jay Weber Show the conservative legal organization is filing a petition with the Wisconsin Election Commission requesting the practice of “ballot harvesting” be prohibited in Wisconsin.
“Ballot harvesting” is the process of third party organizations possibly requesting absentee ballots for voters and then collecting the completed ballots before returning them en masse to the Election Commission or local election authority to be county.
“The problem with this should be obvious,” Esenberg told Weber. “The people that are likely to do this are partisans. And this creates the possibility that if someone is a Democratic operative or a Republican operative they may place pressure on a voter, they may alter the ballot, they may refuse to return the ballots of individuals who they feel may have voted for the wrong candidate.”
Esenberg said that ballot harvesting has led to problems in other states.
“Famously in California in 2018, it looks like Republicans were ahead in a number of congressional races on Election Eve and these margins just sort of withered away in the days that followed the election as these harvested ballots came in,” Esenberg said.
However, ballot harvesting is not just a Democratic tactic in California, and Republican use of it led to election problems in another state.
“In North Carolina, where ballot harvesting is formally illegal, there were Republican operatives who did it anyway,” Esenberg said. “And this caused the election to be invalidated and there were allegations that these ballot harvesters had altered the ballots they had. They voted for candidates and in races where voters had not cast a ballot. They had not returned ballots for people if they thought that the ballots had been cast for the wrong candidate.”
Esenberg said WILL is asking the Election Commission for a clarification of the law regarding ballot harvesting because Wisconsin law on the subject is unclear.
“It seems to be written in a way that assumes that the voter would be the one who requests the absentee ballot and the voter would be the one who has to return it,” Esenberg said. “But it doesn’t say so explicitly so the Wisconsin Election Commission has the ability to make rules clarifying what the law actually means and we will be asking the Commission to clarify Wisconsin law and say, look, this is not the way it works.”
Esenberg told Weber that the ballot harvesting issue should not be a partisan issue.
“The ninth district congressional election in North Carolina in 2018 was overturned over allegations of ballot harvesting,” Esenberg said. “It wasn’t the Democrats who did it. It was the Republicans who did it. So voter fraud can be a bipartisan sin. It ought to be a bipartisan objective for us to reduce the possibility when we can.”
Esenberg cautioned that, depending on how the Election Commission decides the issue, there could be possible legal challenges down the road, either by WILL or other interested parties. He also said that, because of the partisan divide of the Election Commission, they might not come to a decision on the subject of ballot harvesting.
“I don’t think they should view this as a partisan issue,” Esenberg said. “I think this something that everybody should be able to agree on. But you know in our world today that doesn’t happen very often.”
You can listen to the entire interview on WISN-AM:
The request by WILL to clarify ballot harvesting comes less than a week after another election-related move by the organization.
In anticipation of a deadlock between a Republican-controlled legislature and a Democratic governor when it comes time to re-draw legislative and congressional district lines, WILL and former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen are asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to consider redistricting following the 2020 census.
Following the 2000 census, the Wisconsin Supreme Court chose to let federal courts handle the case. WILL and Jensen are asking the Supreme Court to reconsider that decision and keep the redistricting fight in the state courts.