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Wisconsin Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) Tuesday against the City of Racine for its practice of accepting ballots from someone other than the voter.

Municipal clerks have — as common practice — accepted ballots from people delivering them on behalf of other voters, especially the elderly and people with disabilities.

This practice, however, has been a source of friction between Republicans and Democrats since Donald Trump lost the presidential election in 2020 in Wisconsin. While Trump won in Racine County, the issue of turning in absentee ballots is now steeped in bipartisanship. Republicans call the practice ballot harvesting. Democrats say Republicans are using a political ploy to stir up chaos and confusion among voters.

Read the complaint

“The City of Racine is openly flaunting the circuit court, the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Wisconsin Elections Commission guidance. The law has been clear for months – you must return your own ballot,” said Wanggaard. “Racine is intentionally ignoring the law. Not liking the law doesn’t make it okay. Hoping for a different Supreme Court ruling in a few months does not make it okay. The law is the law.”

Further, he pointed out that a Waukesha Circuit Court Judge ruled that voters could only “return an absentee ballot in Wisconsin” two ways “either personally through the mail or a voter delivering his or her own ballot to the clerk.” But the order also states: “An elector must personally mail or deliver his or her own absentee ballot, except where the law explicitly authorizes an agent to act on an elector’s behalf.”

Devin Remiker, executive director of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, issued the following statement: 

“We’ve seen time and time again Republicans work to sow doubt in our elections. This latest attempt by Van Wanggaard is no different. This complaint is an attempt to prevent people with disabilities from casting a ballot. Republicans have been working overtime to cause chaos and confusion and inject doubt into free and fair elections so they can cry foul if they don’t like a particular result.”

Wanggaard rebutted that Remiker doesn’t have the facts or the law on his side and is seeking to distract voters.

“The order states that the ballot must be personally delivered via mail or in person to the clerk, unless the law explicitly authorizes an agent. The law authorizes a different procedure for military voters, and those in residential facilities (nursing homes),” Wanggaard said.

He also noted that the City is not distinguishing accepting ballots from third parties on the city’s website.

“She is accepting any ballot from any person claiming to be any other person’s agent,” Wanggaard said. “That is not allowed under Wisconsin law. If Democrats want people to trust elections, they should follow the law.”

Racine City Clerk: “I take democracy seriously.”

City of Racine municipal clerk Tara Coolidge took issue with Wanggaard’s allegation, saying that the policy allows more people with disabilities to vote.

Coolidge reiterated that the city accepts absentee ballots to be delivered in person from the voter or an agent or authorized representative of the voter. When a person turns in the ballot, the poll worker or clerk asks if they are the voter or an agent or an authorized representative. If they say no, the person is turned away, and the ballot is not accepted.

In an email responding to questions, Coolidge stated that Wangaard nor his staff have called or contacted the City of Racine Clerk’s Office. She also said that even though the Waukesha Court case does not apply to the City of Racine, the city has in good faith attempted to comply with the order, although it does not have jurisdiction.

“While I do appreciate the Senator checking my website, I have long fought for EVERY citizen who is legally able to vote to have an opportunity to vote,” Coolidge said. “This includes Americans with disabilities who may be unable to physically return their ballot. I refuse to be the obstacle that prevents Americans with disabilities from submitting their absentee ballots. 

“Although I am not a policymaker nor an elected official, I take democracy extremely seriously and wish those on either side of the aisle would fact check prior to making announcements that attempt to tarnish the integrity of our democratic process.”

City of Racine communications director Shannon Powell defended Coolidge, saying that she consulted with a lawyer specializing in elections law before posting the voter information on the City’s website. He also predicted that the matter would likely go to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, but that hasn’t happened yet.

“None of our lawyers has said we’re doing anything wrong,” Powell said.

WEC officials mum on Wanggaard’s complaint, voter guidance lacking with court decisions

Riley Vetterkind, public information officer for the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said he couldn’t formally acknowledge the existence of any complaint, let alone Wanggaard’s. The WEC also quashed its guidance for municipal clerks statewide.

“When we get complaints in our office, we often have to make a determination on whether the complaint is confidential or not,” he said. “If a complaint has been deemed as a non-confidential complaint that’s posted on our website. But if it is confidential, then we are unable to really acknowledge it at all.”

Typically, those complaints with allegations of criminality fall under being a confidential complaint, Vetterkind said.

Even though Wanggaard issued a press release announcing his complaint, and this story is just one of several written about it, his complaint appears to fall under the category of a confidential complaint, which prevents the WEC from commenting.

In its communications with clerks statewide leading up to the spring election, the Wisconsin Elections Commission indicated that the government agency would not offer any further guidance.

“At the end of the day, of course, it is up to each municipality, in consultation with their legal counsel, to, you know, interpret and implement the ruling arm as with any other court ruling, you know, but we really are not putting out any other guidance on that ruling at this point,” Vetterkind said.


Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.