Brief

Waukesha Co. Judge denies right-wing attempt to stop count of military absentee ballots

By: - November 7, 2022 7:57 pm
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A Waukesha County judge on Monday denied a last minute attempt by a right-wing group to bar absentee ballots cast by members of the military from being counted on Tuesday in order to verify that those votes come from real people. 

The case was brought by the right-wing Thomas More Society on behalf of a Waukesha County veterans group and state Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls) after a city of Milwaukee elections official requested and sent three military absentee ballots to Brandjten’s home on behalf of made-up voters. 

The official, Kimberly Zapata, has since been fired and charged with a felony for those actions. Zapata has said she requested the ballots in an attempt to point out a hole in the election system. The Thomas More Society’s lawsuit was brought in an attempt to have each military vote independently verified. 

In Wisconsin, military voters — which includes active duty members of any U.S. military branch, merchant marines, Peace Corps members, civilian employees of the U.S. government working abroad and the spouses or dependents of any of those voters also living abroad — are not required to register to vote and don’t need to show a photo ID when requesting an absentee ballot. 

Military votes make up a tiny fraction of the number of ballots cast statewide. About 1,400 had been cast ahead of Tuesday’s election.

The Thomas More Society, represented by former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice and fired election investigator Michael Gableman, argued that the Wisconsin Elections Commission had been “derelict” in its duty to keep an updated list of military voters that could be provided to municipal clerks to check if ballot requests come from real people. 

In the hearing, Gableman said he believes members of the military would want their ballots to remain separate from the rest of the votes and go uncounted on Election Day in order to prevent fraud, saying “every serviceman and woman … would say, ‘Yes judge, please don’t throw the ballots into the pile,’” and that they would be “not only understanding but appreciative of the diligence.” 

The lawsuit argued that the state’s election clerks are required to keep a list of all the active military voters from the municipality and that the WEC had not directed the clerks to do so. 

Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Lynn Lodahl, representing the WEC, argued that the lawsuit was brought too close to the election and that the requested actions were severely disruptive to the voting process. 

“This is a very, very extreme proposal,” she said. “There is no process in the statutes for sequestration. The plaintiffs don’t explain what this means in their materials. They don’t explain how this will work. They don’t explain how long the ballots will be sequestered for. They don’t explain what happens after the ballots will be set aside. So from this standpoint, that sort of injunction is undeniably a disruption of the status quo. It’s something new, and an injunction is meant to preserve not disrupt the status quo.” 

Waukesha County Judge Michael Maxwell, a former member of the U.S. Army, ruled against Gableman, saying the action the society was requesting was “drastic” and that he didn’t even have the power to grant such relief but he did agree with Gableman that the WEC wasn’t doing enough to help the clerks interpret the state’s election laws. 

“I think I made clear in my questioning that I felt that that was a drastic remedy, that I felt that it was at least at a minimum a temporary disenfranchisement of our military voters’ votes, to say let’s put them on hold and let’s figure out after the fact whether or not there’s a bad ballot cast,” he said. “We rely on our Legislature, we rely on our executive to implement laws and we rely on the agencies that are supposed to enforce those laws to do as best a job as possible in that regard, and what’s clear from the record before the court is that we’re not perhaps doing the best job that we could. And I guess we’ll see tomorrow how the voters of the state of Wisconsin feel about that and the choices that they make, but I don’t find it appropriate for the court to sequester those votes.”

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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.

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