RACINE AND KENOSHA – The Cities of Racine and Kenosha are among five Wisconsin cities sued this week by a conservative law firm over the use of absentee ballot drop boxes.
The Thomas More Society of Chicago, on behalf of individual residents from Racine, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Madison and Kenosha, filed separate lawsuits on Wednesday against elections officials in each of the cities. The suits were brought by Erick Kaardal, who is listed as Thomas More Society’s special counsel.
“Wisconsin election law precludes the use of unmanned absentee ballot drop boxes for voting, and yet each of these cities implemented them, despite their illegality,” Kaardal said in a news release issued Wednesday.
Kaardal contends that the five cities “made an agreement with the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life to use the drop boxes to get these cities’ residents to vote” in the 2020 election.
The suits seek a court order declaring the use of unmanned drop boxes “legally unauthorized” under Wisconsin state law; a permanent injunction against the use of unmanned drop boxes and “any other relief” the court deems necessary.
Ballot drop boxes used during pandemic
As the COVID-19 pandemic was widely infecting the state’s residents prior to the November 2020 general election, the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) approved the use of drop boxes as a way to reduce crowds at polling places. The nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau later reported that drop boxes were used for absentee ballots in 245 Wisconsin municipalities in the 2020 election.
The Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), a national nonprofit whose donors include Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, distributed grants to 214 Wisconsin municipalities to help pay for poll workers, remote voting sites, ballot drop boxes and personal protective equipment prior to the 2020 election. Critics, such as the Thomas More Society, charged that the state’s five largest, and generally Democratic-leaning municipalities, got between two and four times more money per capita than other municipalities.
However, The Associated Press reported that the CTCL has said that every local municipality – including many communities won by former President Donald Trump – received all the money they requested. The CTCL told Madison’s WMTV-TV in March that it made grants to 2,500 elections agencies in 49 states.
The City of Racine received $1.69 million from CTCL and Kenosha received $867,799 in the summer of 2020. Funds were used to purchase drop boxes, hire and train poll workers, set up and operate absentee (or early) voting sites, buy safety equipment and conduct voter outreach, among other things.
Racine also used a portion of its CTCL funding to buy a Mobile Election Unit, a custom-built RV-type vehicle. It went into service in 2021.
The City of Racine’s unmanned, bright purple drop boxes were placed in several neighborhoods prior to the 2020 general election and then put into storage.
Elsewhere in the state, questioners of how the 2020 election was conducted have sued to halt the use of unmanned drop boxes for absentee ballots. A Waukesha County judge’s January 2022 ruling barred the use of ballot drop boxes except in a clerk’s office. The issue is now awaiting a ruling by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Local Lawsuit Details
The complaint against the City of Racine and City Clerk Tara Coolidge was brought by Racine resident Sandy Weidner, who served on the Racine Common Council from 2000 to 2020. She lost the city’s mayoral special election to Cory Mason in October 2017 and was an unsuccessful write-in candidate against Mason in April 2019.
The suit was filed in Racine County District Court and assigned to Judge Jon Fredrickson of Branch 7, according to online court records.
The complaint against the City of Kenosha and Interim City Clerk Debra Gimler was brought by Kenosha resident Dean Romano. According to online court records, it was assigned to Judge Chad Kerkman. A scheduling conference is set for October 4.
In January of this year, Weidner and Racine resident Kim Morrison – through Kaardal of Thomas More Society – filed a formal complaint with the WEC against Mason and Coolidge alleging “election bribery” and illegal use of ballot drop boxes.
Romano – also through attorney Kaardal – in February filed a similar formal complaint with the WEC against Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian, Gimler and former City Clerk Matt Krauter.
The WEC declined to investigate those and similar complaints lodged by Thomas More.
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