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RACINE – Thursday, a group of five Racine voters announced the filing of a formal complaint alleging that Racine Mayor Cory Mason was behind an election administration plan last year that violated the U.S. Constitution.

The 28-page complaint is against Mason, Racine City Clerk Tara Coolidge, and Wisconsin Elections Commissioner Meagan Wolfe. Those bringing the complaint are Martin and Mary Prujansky, Kenneth Brown, Brooke Hesse, and Dale Giles, all of Racine.

“Our view is you’ve got to follow state law and follow the Constitution, and that hasn’t been done,” Erick Kaardal, a Minneapolis attorney representing the voter group, said at a Thursday morning news conference held at Downtown Racine’s Monument Square.

In the complaint, Kaardal contends that $6.3 million in grant money from the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) went to the state’s five largest cities before the 2020 general election had strings attached to how the election was to be run. The CTCL is a nonpartisan 501-c-3 nonprofit organization that receives funding from major corporations and foundations, including Facebook, Google, the Center for Civic Design, the Knight Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

The CTCL awarded more than 2,500 election grants, according to its website. That included 221 grants to local governments in Wisconsin.

“This is not partisan. We don’t accept private corporations being involved in the administration of elections,” said Kaardal.

 Brooke Hesse (left), one of five Racine voters filing a complaint, and attorney Erick Kaardal hold a sign illustrating their assertion that officials in Racine and four other Wisconsin cities did not follow the U.S. Constitution in administrating the November 2020 general election during a news conference held on Monument Square Thursday.

Constitutional Argument

The attorney said that the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures the power to set the administration of federal elections. Then, appointed local officials such as county, city, town, and village clerks perform their duties.

The complaint contends that Mason approached the CTCL about election administration funding and then gathered the mayors of Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, and Kenosha to form an alliance to apply for a grant. The five municipalities created the “Wisconsin Safe Voting Plan.” Then, the CTCL awarded the funds in July 2020.

The City of Racine’s share was $942,100. The city planned to use the money to set up voting sites, set up drive-through and drop boxes for early voting, recruit and train poll workers, purchase protective gear (PPE) for election workers, and provide voter education.

The complaint argues that by accepting the CTCL grant money, the organization controls the use of the funds to administer the November 2020 election. That goes against the Constitution, Kaardal said Thursday.

“The key to understanding how Wisconsin’s election become unconstitutional is with Mayor Cory Mason,” said Kaardal.

Brown, one of the local voters filing the complaint, is also vice-chair of the Racine County Republicans. He told the news conference that his role in the complaint lies in the need for election fairness and transparency. One example cited was that Racine County’s voter turnout grew by 16,000 last November. But Brown said he believes turnout would have been about 6,000 fewer “if not for the shenanigans.”

What they want

The voters want the Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC) to investigate the allegations outlined in the complaint. Other requested outcomes include:

  • Prohibit WEC Administrator Wolfe, named in the complaint, from investigating
  • Order Wolfe and the City of Racine to conform with Wisconsin election law
  • Issue an order declaring that Racine violated state election law.

City response to the election complaint

Shannon Powell, the mayor’s chief of staff and communications director, said Thursday morning that his office hadn’t received the complaint.

“These issues have been fully litigated, and any suggestion of wrongdoing is misguided. Because of the pandemic, like many other cities, we needed additional resources to conduct elections safely. Racine applied for a planning grant from CTCL to put together an application with the other mentioned cities to produce a strong application for funding to CTCL to run a safe election during a pandemic. Racine had the capacity to help coordinate with the other cities, so we took the “lead,” but no one was forced to participate, obviously,” he said.

Powell also noted that the Racine Common Council approved the applications for the planning and funding grants that the city received from the CTCL. The city also issued public announcements that it had received and was implementing the grants.

“I know there are individuals who are upset that certain candidates lost, who also want to believe that it was illegal to take grant dollars — however it was not. Our Clerk fully manages our elections, complies with the law, and she was happy to apply for the grant,” he stated. “The allegations of wrongdoing have been fully litigated already and are generally misguided. The recourse for those who are upset is to change state law moving forward, and I believe the Legislature is already working on that.”

Photographers lined up to record Thursday morning’s news conference on Monument Square. Five Racine voters and an elections attorney announced that a formal complaint was being filed against Racine Mayor Cory Mason, Racine City Clerk Tara Coolidge and Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe.

Next Steps

As of Thursday afternoon, the WEC has not received the complaint, said Reid Magney, WEC public information officer.

He said that Wolfe and Mason would have 15 days to respond once the WEC receives the complaint. The group that filed the complaint will then have 10 days for further response.

The six-member commission will then review the issues and issue an order. “It’s difficult to ascertain how long a case like this might take. My guess is it will likely take some time,” Magney said.

Other Similar Complaints

Attorney Kaardal is no stranger to challenging the CTCL. He is associated with the Thomas More Society, a not-for-profit law firm specializing in public issues. Also, he filed and lost two lawsuits last year challenging the grants on behalf of the Wisconsin Voters Alliance. Further, he has filed and lost similar lawsuits in other states, according to media reports.

Kaardal was also involved with a Wisconsin Voters Alliance petition that asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to reject the more than 3 million votes cast in the November 2020 presidential election, require the Legislature to choose its own presidential electors, and require the governor to approve them. The Wisconsin Supreme Court denied that petition on a 4-3 vote.

Read the full Racine Complaint here.

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Paul Holley is retired from careers in journalism, public relations and marketing but not from life. These days, he pretty much writes about what he feels like writing. You may contact him directly at:...