Rep. Janel Brandtjen speaks with election conspiracy theorist Ivan Raiklin at a February 15 rally. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)
The Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office is investigating who requested three absentee ballots on behalf of members of the military and had them sent to the home of a Republican lawmaker.
The three ballots arrived at the home of state Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls) last Friday and she brought them, unopened, to the sheriff’s office to investigate, her office said in a news release.
In a statement, the sheriff’s office said it is working with the Waukesha County District Attorney to investigate the ballots.
“On Friday October 28th, the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department was made aware that State Assembly Representative Janel Brandtjen received three military ballots at her home address,” a sheriff’s office news release states. “None of the individuals reside or have resided at her address. This matter is currently under investigation with no additional information available at this time. The Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department is working with the Waukesha County District Attorney’s Office in this investigation.”
Brandtjen, the chair of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections, has been one of the most outspoken members of the Legislature supporting allegations of fraud in the 2020 election. She has led several committee hearings in which she gave prominent election conspiracists an open platform to spread false accusations about elections without pushback from election officials and experts.
In a news release, her office said that aside from delivering the ballots to the sheriff’s office, she reached out to former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman and the Thomas More Society to find if there were other legal options. Gableman previously ran the Assembly’s ill-fated review of the 2020 election and found no significant evidence of fraud before being fired by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos this summer. After his firing he was hired by the right-wing Thomas More Society to continue his work on elections.
The ballots, which Brandtjen’s office said were classified as military absentee ballots, were mailed by municipal clerks in Menomonee Falls, Shorewood and South Milwaukee. All three ballots, according to pictures shared in the news release, were meant for people with the first name “Holly.” The identical name caused Brandtjen to believe the voters don’t actually exist.
“After Rep. Brandtjen made inquiries, she realized these three ‘Hollys’ probably don’t exist,” her office wrote in the release. “If they did, why would they send ballots to her house?”
Brandtjen’s office did not respond to a phone call or email seeking more information about how she came to the conclusion that the voters don’t exist.
The requesting of absentee ballots on behalf of other people echoes a previous incident this summer in which a right-wing election conspiracy theorist requested the absentee ballots of two Racine County elected officials in an attempt to expose a perceived flaw in the state’s absentee ballot system.
That man, Harry Wait, runs an organization dedicated to searching for election fraud and has since been charged with multiple felonies for impersonating the officials.
After he requested absentee ballots on behalf of Racine Mayor Cory Mason and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Wait alerted the Racine County Sheriff’s Office of his actions. Racine Sheriff Christopher Schmaling, who has frequently engaged in election conspiracies, announced that Wait had uncovered a flaw in the voting system.
Prior to his first court appearance, Wait spoke at a press conference in which he compared himself to the country’s founders.
“My actions are in the spirit of organic law of this nation, upon which was founded taking action in civil disobedience,” he said. “I have acted in a similar manner as the founder of this nation acted. For that reason, I am certain my actions are indeed both lawful and under organic law of the nation.”
Election officials countered that Wait had merely uncovered the fact that he’d committed a crime and that it is practically impossible to conduct large scale election fraud by requesting other people’s absentee ballots. The state Department of Justice later brought charges against Wait.
Since Wait publicized his ballot requests, the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) has been monitoring absentee ballot requests and sending postcards to any voters who request a ballot be sent to an address other than the one where they’re registered.
Brandtjen, like Wait, is characterizing the actions of whoever requested the ballots as an attempt to expose flaws in the absentee ballot system, this time in the specific procedures for military members attempting to vote.
“I believe someone was trying to point out how easy it is to get military ballots in Wisconsin. Registration for military ballots is not required, so a fictitious name and birthdate is all that is required to obtain a military ballot online,” Brandtjen said in a statement. “Feeling shocked about this situation is an understatement because it demonstrates stolen valor from those who protect this nation. I think it’s sad that people feel they have to break the law to get the attention of the Legislature. This is now the second time citizens have tried to point out loopholes in our elections.”
Under state statute, military voters — which includes members of the uniformed branches of the military, civilian government employees working overseas, Peace Corps members, U.S. merchant marines and their spouses living abroad, are subject to different rules than regular voters.
The state statute regarding military voters was last updated in 2018 to, among other changes, allow any adult, rather than a U.S. citizen, to serve as the witness for military voters while they fill out their absentee ballots. The changes to the statute passed the Assembly in a 57-26 vote. Brandtjen voted for the update.
Any change to how military voters request and cast an absentee ballot would require legislative action.
While they can go through the regular process by registering to vote and requesting an absentee ballot, military voters aren’t required to register to vote and don’t need to provide a photo ID when requesting an absentee ballot. All that’s required is for the voters to provide the clerk with their name, date of birth and an address to send the ballot to.
However, even without the registration and ID requirements, voters requesting a military ballot are required to check a box certifying that the information is true and accurate and acknowledging that lying in the process is a crime subject to fines or imprisonment.
A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Elections Commission said in a statement the agency is participating in the law enforcement investigation into the ballot incident and noted that attempting to vote under someone else’s name or using false information to request a ballot is a crime with “severe criminal and civil penalties.”
“We are still gathering the WEC data regarding Rep. Brandtjen’s concerns that she outlined in her recent press release. We plan to work with our law enforcement partners as appropriate to address the allegations,” Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesman Riley Vetterkind said in a statement.
Vetterkind added that clerks “practically must still obtain sufficient information to enter a military elector into the statewide registration system.”
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