MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin judge has dismissed a GOP state lawmaker’s lawsuit over military voting records, saying Friday that the challenge should have been brought against a local elections official, not the statewide elections commission.
Rep. Janel Brandtjen, the former head of the Assembly elections committee who has promoted election conspiracy theories, and a local veterans group sued the Wisconsin Elections Commission in November in an attempt to stop military absentee ballots from being counted in the 2022 midterm.
The lawsuit came in response to the actions of a top Milwaukee elections official who falsely requested military absentee ballots and sent them to Brandtjen’s home. Kimberly Zapata, the former deputy director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, claimed she was trying to expose a vulnerability in the voting process. She now faces charges of election fraud and misconduct in office.
Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Maxwell refused to order military absentee ballots to be sequestered in November, issuing his decision just 14 hours before polls opened.
Local elections officials are required by state law to keep a list of eligible military voters in their jurisdictions. Brandtjen and the Concerned Veterans of Waukesha County wanted to obtain updated lists to see whether clerks were complying with the law. In his ruling Friday dismissing the lawsuit, Maxwell said it should have been filed against a municipal clerk, and not the elections commission, which is responsible for issuing guidance and providing support to local officials who actually run elections.
“The Court agrees with the assertion that WEC’s guidance ought to have more information for local election officials on how to utilize the military ballot list and perhaps how to audit the list and ballots to ensure that there are not fraudulent military ballots being cast, but the Court does not have the authority to require such additional guidance,” Maxwell said in his ruling.
Other efforts to address potential vulnerabilities in the military absentee voting process are ongoing. A bipartisan group of Wisconsin lawmakers in May proposed requiring service members to provide their Department of Defense identification number when requesting a military absentee ballot. Local clerks would then be required to verify the voter’s identity using that information.
Harm Venhuizen is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Harm on Twitter.