A couple of weeks ago I went to visit my soon-to-be 93-year old mother at her apartment in an assisted living facility. We had a lovely brunch. On my way out I noticed her absentee ballot sitting on the kitchen table. I asked her if she wanted me to drop it in the mail. She said that would be great.
So, here’s the question: Are my mom and I criminals? Rick Esenberg thinks so. Esenberg runs the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. WILL argued before the Wisconsin Supreme Court that what we did amounted to voter fraud. According to WILL, absentee voters have to physically deposit their ballot in a mailbox by themselves. Even if my mom and I had walked together to the box and she handed the ballot to me to deposit we would have been breaking the law or so says Esenberg.
This leads me to wonder if I should report my mother to former justice Michael Gableman who is “investigating” this kind of “fraud.” Maybe I’d get a Culver’s gift certificate or 20% off on a MyPillow for my diligence.
But I digress. If you think this is ludicrous, well, of course it is. Esenberg refers to what we did as “ballot harvesting.” What he really doesn’t want to happen is organized programs where people go around collecting lots of ballots from voters the organizers believe will vote for candidates they like and making sure those ballots are delivered in time to be counted. I’m not sure what’s wrong with that practice either, except that it’s perceived as being employed more by Democrats and Esenberg is a partisan Republican who wants to dampen the votes for the other guys.
Fortunately for now, WILL’s argument before the Court was deferred. A majority said that, for whatever reason, the case wasn’t ripe for a decision. But, as part of the same suit, the Court did rule against drop boxes. That’s unfortunate but not really all that important. They were nice to have during the pandemic and when the Postal Service was having issues coinciding with it, but elections were performed without them for a couple of centuries and it was fine. Essentially, every U.S. mailbox still functions perfectly well as a de facto ballot drop box.
What’s more troubling is what might happen when this “ballot harvesting” case winds its way back to the Court. What if WILL eventually prevails? The result won’t be any reduction in fraud, since there’s virtually none under the current system. It will just remove one more perfectly reasonable way to make it easier for people, especially those with mobility issues, to exercise their rights in a democracy.
And what if WILL’s case doesn’t make it back to the Court or it does and they lose? It’s still damaging because I strongly suspect that WILL’s real intent is to undermine confidence in our elections. In fact, radical conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley used the occasion of the drop box decision to further that false narrative. “The failure to follow election laws.. forces everyone to question the legitimacy of our election results,” she wrote.
Combined with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to take on a case that will likely establish the “independent state legislatures” doctrine, this is part of a strategy to empower the Wisconsin Legislature to overturn the popular vote and award our electoral votes to the Republican in 2024. Thanks in part to WILL’s work, if the Democrat wins the popular vote legislative Republicans will simply decide that the needed number of Democratic votes were cast illegally, perhaps through “ballot harvesting”. They will disallow those votes and fudge the numbers for the Republican.
I don’t always disagree with WILL. For example, I think they are right to challenge the Madison school district’s policy to keep parents of transgender students in the dark about what’s going on with their kids. And I’m glad that they successfully challenged the clearly discriminatory back door reparations schemes of the Biden administration. But they are just dead wrong when they participate in this strategy to overturn or to suppress the popular vote.
Keep my mom out of jail.
And on another matter… We have been critical of former UW Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, but we were saddened to learn that a serious cancer diagnosis now prevents her from taking over at Northwestern, her alma mater. It’s important in politics and public life to make a distinction between the job and the person. When someone takes on a role as a public official they’re fair game for criticism, but except in rare cases (e.g., Donald Trump — he truly is a horrible human being) that shouldn’t extend to the person. We wish Blank the best.
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