Wisconsin Elections Panel Guidance Led Clerks to Fill Out Witness Addresses, Contrary to State Law

November 10, 2020 Updated: November 11, 2020

Guidance issued by the Wisconsin Elections Commission resulted in municipal clerks filling out missing witness addresses on absentee ballot certificates, contrary to the plain language of the state law, according to Michael Gableman, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice.

Wisconsin’s statute requires each absentee ballot to be accompanied by a certificate signed by a witness who must write down his or her address.

“If a certificate is missing the address of a witness, the ballot may not be counted,” the law states.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission appears to have disregarded the statute when, in October, it formally instructed clerks and election officials across the state to take it upon themselves to fill out missing addresses on mail ballots by looking up their information in the voter registry or through other “reliable information.”

“This is not at all what the law directs,” Gableman, who worked as a poll watcher in Milwaukee on Nov. 3 and witnessed the addresses in red ink, told The Epoch Times. “The law says that if the witness address is missing under the witness signature, it’s a spoiled ballot or invalid ballot.”

The clerks have been using red ink to fill out the missing addresses. The Epoch Times spoke to four poll watchers who witnessed the red ink on absentee ballots that were counted on Election Day in Milwaukee.

Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesman Reid Magney told The Epoch Times in an email that the guidance in question was approved by the commission unanimously in 2016.

“The guidance has been in effect for 11 statewide elections, including the 2016 presidential and presidential recount, and no one has objected to it until now,” Magney said. “The law says that a witness address needs to be present for the certificate to be accepted and the ballot to be counted, it does not specify who affixes the address.”

The “Wisconsin statute appears to create an opening for an administrative rule that sets guidelines on how to cure a witness statement missing the required address information,” said Logan Churchwell, a spokesman for the Public Interest Legal Foundation.

Ardis Cerny, who worked as a poll watcher in Milwaukee on Nov. 3, estimated she saw roughly 40 ballots on which witness addresses were written in red ink during the counting of the ballots for one of the city’s 340 wards.

“Some wards were worse than others because other friends of mine who were working in other places had higher totals than that,” Cerny said.

Cerny and the other Milwaukee poll watchers who spoke to The Epoch Times said their access to the counting floor was severely restricted, making it difficult to monitor the count. Cerny estimated that poll watchers could only access 20 of the 200 counting tables at the downtown Milwaukee facility.

Annette Kuglitsch worked as a poll watcher at the same central counting center in Milwaukee. She observed at least 10 instances of ballots with red ink over the course of a “couple of hours” of watching the count for the 136th Ward.

Earlier in the day, Kuglitch and Cerny watched the counting at another center in Wauwatosa. An election official filling in for the clerk at that location confirmed that clerks were instructed to fill in the missing addresses with red ink. When asked how the clerks found the addresses, the official said they could use “Google” or some other means.

Debra Morin spent most of Nov. 3 working as a poll watcher in Milwaukee. She told The Epoch Times that she observed a handful of ballots featuring red ink, including some that only included a city and state.

The Trump campaign requested a recount in Wisconsin, which will likely begin in late November, once the state certifies the election results.

Former Vice President Joe Biden led President Donald Trump by 20,540 votes on Nov. 10.

Democrats are much more likely to vote by mail than Republicans. Wisconsin doesn’t report party affiliations for voters who used mail ballots. In the 20 states that do report party affiliations, Democrats cast 7 million more votes by mail than Republicans, according to the U.S. Elections Project.

Follow Ivan on Twitter: @ivanpentchoukov