Right-wing lawyer Erick Kaardal testifies before the Assembly elections committee on Sept. 8. (Screenshot | WisEye)
A right-wing attorney testified before the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections on Thursday to push legislators to end Wisconsin’s relationship with a national organization that tracks when voters move or die.
In more than an hour of testimony without any pushback from election experts or Democrats, Erick Kaardal, an attorney for the right-wing legal nonprofit the Thomas More Society, opined on his views that the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) is harmful to “election integrity,” endorsed the independent state Legislature theory — which holds that state Legislatures have the power to overturn election results — and alleged that various national election administration organizations have nefarious ties to billionaires including George Soros and Mark Zuckerberg.
Kaardal was invited to speak before the committee by its chair, Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls). Brandtjen has become one of the most outspoken legislators in Wisconsin against the results of the 2020 election, signing on to a bill that would attempt the impossible and unconstitutional legal maneuver of decertifying the state’s presidential election results.
Also in attendance at the hearing were Rep. Timothy Ramthun (R-Campbellsport) — a former Republican candidate for governor who authored the decertification proposal — and former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who for nearly two years ran a widely criticized review of the 2020 election.
Kaardal, who has become a major player in right-wing efforts to cast doubt on the results of the 2020 election in Wisconsin, said he believes that the uptick in citizen and legal groups agitating for changes to Wisconsin election law is a good thing. He also said that he believes the Wisconsin Elections Commission doesn’t need to be abolished, so long as it “100% cooperates” with his efforts to investigate wrongdoing in the state’s election administration.
For two years, Kaardal has been investigating alleged fraud in Wisconsin’s elections — often working with the since-fired Gableman and his now-defunct Office of Special Counsel. Together, Kaardal and Gableman have turned up few new complaints, returning repeatedly to the same allegations that election experts have disproven or courts have disagreed with.
On Thursday, Kaardal began his testimony by attacking grant money Wisconsin municipalities received in 2020 to help administer the election in the face of increased costs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Republicans have often complained the state’s five largest cities, Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Racine and Kenosha, received more money than other parts of the state and claimed that the grants amounted to bribery in an effort to boost Democratic turnout in the largely liberal cities. Several judges have disagreed with this characterization but 10 counties across the state have since acted to ban private money from being used in election administration.
Kaardal then spent several minutes talking about people who have been adjudicated incompetent by a judge and have therefore been stripped fo their ability to vote. Kaardal said without proof he believes the WEC is allowing people who have been declared incompetent to cast ballots because there are many people who may have been declared incompetent by a judge but that status isn’t reflected in their voter files. Often, a person can be declared incompetent without being disenfranchised.
Kaardal then moved on to his major point of the testimony, ending the state’s relationship between Wisconsin and ERIC because he believes it’s illegal to have a non-government group handling election-related data. He added that the termination of the agreement would be a major step toward increasing election integrity in the state, but that the step would require full cooperation from the WEC.
“The point is that we want to clean up the elections in a long-term way,” he said. “So we’re not really focused on 2022. We don’t expect this to get resolved before 2022. If it gets resolved in our favor, we can wait a long time. But that’s the nature of election integrity, it’s a long haul, but absolutely requires everyone’s cooperation. And if people aren’t cooperating, well, it would be awfully tough to have election integrity in Wisconsin.
“The Wisconsin Elections Commission, they have to cooperate with respect to election integrity,” he continued. “If they don’t cooperate, then yeah, it’s gonna be abolished. … So I would say abolish ERIC first, abolish the relationship with ERIC first, then look at what to do with the Wisconsin Elections Commission.”
Kaardall said he believes the WEC tricked the Legislature into approving the deal with ERIC by saying it’s too difficult to do the work of tracking voters across state lines. Instead, the WEC should do that work itself, trying to track voters who move to or die in any of the 50 states.
Michael Haas, the Madison city attorney and former administrator of the WEC, says it’s incredibly difficult to match data between states and ERIC makes the work much more efficient and effective.
“That seems to be a proposal from somebody who has no idea how complicated it is to set up matching processes between systems that were not created to have the same exact data fields and not set up to match data between each other,” Haas says. “That’s the whole reason ERIC was set up, to make that matching more efficient and accurate. I’m not a technology expert, but knowing the work that goes into the ERIC process, I think it would be virtually impossible to try to match data with agencies in 50 separate states. It’s not only DMV, it’s health records, death records, and I just think that’s an impractical impossibility.”
Haas adds that Kaardal’s policy proposal is ironic coming from people that have been agitating for the state to be even more strict about its maintenance of the state’s voter registration lists. Right-wing groups have frequently attacked the state’s voter registration system because it includes dead voters — even though those names don’t appear in the poll books that are used on Election Day.
“So in my mind, you can’t complain that we should try to remove people from the rolls who have moved to another state or died, and remove one of the most effective tools for doing that,” Haas says. “That’s what I don’t understand about having Wisconsin end its association with ERIC. These are the same people who complain that the names of deceased voters are still in the voter registration system. It’s a big effort and a main ingredient to having clean administration of elections. The more outdated names you have in the voter lists, the more complicated things get. We want to have the voter lists updated with the most accurate information.”
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