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Thursday

August 2014

28

Municipalities deal with flood of absentee votes, potential fraud

Election officials spot suspicious absentee ballot applications

As voters head to the polls in the state's historic gubernatorial recall election, it appears that voter turnout tactics by political action committees (PACs) might be at the core of vote fraud allegations in Lake Country.

Delafield City Clerk Gina Gresch last week turned over to the Waukesha County District Attorney's Office what she thinks might be two fraudulent absentee ballot applications.

Individuals who live at the addresses listed on the applications mailed to the clerk's office have told city officials they did not submit the applications and did not intend to cast absentee ballots.

Fraudulently submitting or forging a signature on an absentee ballot application is a felony, according to Lt. Dave Witkowski, an investigator with the Waukesha County Sheriff's Department who is assigned to the District Attorney's Office.

"Many people think the only time there is vote fraud is when someone votes twice or votes illegally; that is not always the case," Gresch noted.

Gresch said fraudulent voter registration or absentee ballot applications can compromise ballot security procedures that are intended to ensure ballots are properly cast and counted.

Gresch said it appears - but she is not sure - that the absentee ballot applications might have been sent to the voters and mailed to the clerk's office by a PAC.

Hundreds of absentee votes

Municipal clerks across the region have reported receiving hundreds of absentee ballot application forms, many of which were apparently mailed to voters by PACs. Some of the clerks said most of the activity was in support of Gov. Scott Walker and in opposition to the recall. The idea of PACs mailing out absentee ballot applications to encourage voters to support a particular candidate or proposition in a general election is relatively new to election politics, according to local clerks. They said it began in the 2008 presidential campaign. They anticipated it would occur in the recall election, and they expect more of it during the 2012 presidential election.

Working extra hours

Town of Lisbon Deputy Clerk Sandi Gettelman said the town's office staff has been "swamped" by absentee voters activity, where 700 to 800 voters have either cast absentee ballots at the Town Hall or have asked absentee ballots be mailed to them.

She said many of the application forms sent by voters appear to have been produced by organizations supporting Walker.

Town Administrator Jeff Musche said Gettelman has been working additional hours in the evening to keep up with the influx of absentee ballots. Other municipal clerks also reported staffs working long hours processing absentee ballots.

Sussex Village Clerk Sue Freheit said of the approximately 544 voters who had requested or cast absentee ballots, about 148 of them received ballot application forms from PACs or Walker's campaign committee.

Oconomowoc City Clerk Diane Coenen said the absentee ballot applications "seem to be coming in every minute; we must be dealing with 2,000 of them."

"I haven't had time to notice," she said when asked if the applications appear to be have been produced by PACs.

Summit Village Clerk Debbie Michael said the state Republican organization had inadvertently encouraged voters to return the absentee ballots to her home address.

She said there have been about 522 absentee ballots that had either been requested or cast in Summit.

Absentee ballots mailed to municipal polling places must be postmarked by the day of the election. Casting absentee voting at municipal halls closed Friday.

Nearly all of the municipal clerks in Lake Country are nonpartisan election administrators who are appointed by municipal boards that are elected in nonpartisan elections.

The possible vote fraud in Delafield was detected by Deputy Clerk Ellen O'Brien who has more than 15 years experience in administering local elections and became suspicious of the addresses and handwriting on the application forms.

City election officials also detected another potential incidence of vote fraud after a 25-year-old man cast an absentee ballot at City Hall on Tuesday afternoon, a few hours after city election officials mailed him an absentee ballot that he had earlier requested. The man said he had signed a document presented to him by a Walker supporter several weeks earlier and did not realize he had filled out an absentee ballot application.

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