Republicans continue dispute over guardianship and voter rolls

By: - September 21, 2022 7:00 am
Rep. Janel Brandtjen speaking on the Assembly floor into a microphone

Rep. Janel Brandtjen | Facebook

Last week, Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature sent a letter to the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) demanding that the agency direct municipal clerks to remove anyone under a guardianship order who has been adjudicated incompetent from the statewide voter lists known as WisVote. 

The effort, led by Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls) and Sen. Andre Jacque (R-DePere), was joined by 14 other legislators, including some of the most right-wing members of the Legislature. The letter was sent to the WEC on Sept. 15. 

Brandtjen spearheaded the effort following a hearing of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections, which she chairs, in which right-wing attorney and election conspiracist Erick Kardaal appeared without any rebuttal to testify about his belief that the state’s voter lists are mismanaged. 

Kaardal’s testimony mostly focused on the Electronic Information Registration Center (ERIC), a national organization of which Wisconsin is a member, that tracks when voters have moved to another state or died. He also returned to his regular complaint about the maintenance of the voter rolls. Kaardal made a prominent appearance in widely criticized videos published by the recently fired 2020 election investigator, Michael Gableman, in which Kaardal and Gableman interview apparently confused nursing home residents about their voting habits. 

“We only want the best for our citizens under guardianship care and do not want them taken advantage of by easily being persuaded into voting for specific candidates,” the letter states. “Issuing a ballot when individuals have been put under the protection of a court-ordered guardianship is unprofessional and inappropriate. WEC is permitting this to happen knowing that these individuals can be identified on CCAP, yet are not removed from the WisVote system. WEC is literally condoning elder abuse.” 

Democrats and advocates for the disabled immediately pushed back on the claims made in the letter. 

“Hell NO,” Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-West Point) wrote in an email, obtained by the Wisconsin Examiner, responding to Brandtjen’s request for signatories on the letter. 

Brandtjen responded, writing “For the record, you’re okay with people who are under guardianship and declared incompetent to receive ballots?” 

Erpenbach replied that Brandtjen’s demand would result in people being wrongly disenfranchised. 

“What I’m NOT ok with, is disenfranchising voters,” he wrote back. 

Erpenbach attached a letter from the Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition (WDVC) pushing back on claims made in the Republicans’ letter. 

“The September 15th letter seems to suggest that guardianship automatically means the ward cannot vote, and that therefore everyone with a guardian should be removed from voting rolls,” the WDVC wrote. “This is not true.” 

Brandtjen, however, tells the Wisconsin Examiner that she thinks the disability advocates agree with her and that it’s not unreasonable to ask the WEC to make sure people who have been declared incompetent by a judge and therefore have lost their right to vote actually can’t cast a ballot. 

“We agree, that’s why I tried to be as clear as possible,” Brandtjen says. “It’s guardianships and people listed as incompetent, [WDVC] does mention, of course we don’t want people to be taken advantage of.” 

“However WEC wants to manage it is fine; they need to do the job,” she continues. “It’s a realistic expectation.”

For the last two years, Republicans have frequently alleged there are problems with how the WEC maintains the voter lists, arguing that the agency doesn’t properly track when people move, die or are declared incompetent.

The agency has issued corrections stating that there is a difference between the massive statewide voter lists that maintain a record of every active and inactive voter file and the poll books that are used to track active voters and when they cast a ballot in an election. People with inactive voter files, including anyone who is declared incompetent, won’t be listed in the poll books on Election Day.


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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.