Photo by Saiyna Bashir, The Capital Times

WEC deadlocked on a move by Republican Commissioner Bob Spindell that would have required commission staff to propose more identification requirements for those requesting absentee ballots online.

Spindell in Wednesday’s Wisconsin Elections Commission meeting proposed requiring voters to go through more steps such as inputting the last four digits of their Social Security numbers to ensure nobody else can request their ballots. The move came after Harry Wait, an activist with the group Honest Open and Transparent Government, requested absentee ballots for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Racine Mayor Cory Mason. Doing so is illegal, and Wait said it was part of an effort to show deficiencies in the state’s absentee voting system.

The state Department of Justice is investigating the issue and in contact with Racine County DA Patricia Hansen on the issue because Wait lives in Racine County.

The commission, split evenly between Dem and GOP appointees, voted 3-3 on Spindell’s proposal with a majority needed to implement it. Spindell said ahead of the vote that adding more authentication requirements would improve voter confidence that the state’s elections are fair and secure.

But Demo Commissioner Mark Thomsen argued there are already laws that make what Wait did illegal and there are existing ways to hold people accountable who commit crimes.

“The easiest way to stop it is to throw them in jail, and that will stop it,” he said. “We don’t need to make it harder to vote, we need to put the criminals in jail.”

Republican Chair Don Millis said Wait pointed out areas of the system that could use improvement and holding criminals accountable does not stop others from committing crimes.

“I wish I had your confidence that one prosecution or a few prosecutions will prevent other people from being more creative, using more mischief,” he said.

Spindell said many other companies and groups when faced with deficiencies in their systems generally find resolutions to those issues rather than just reacting to them when they occur.

Ann Jacobs, the former Dem chair, said Spindell’s suggestion WEC would be underscoring a lack of faith in the security of elections is “ridiculous.”

“The chutzpah of complaining about a lack of faith in our elections when you’re running around the state holding town halls declaring that the 2020 election was rigged is astonishing,” she said. “So I am deaf to the complaint that we’re somehow fomenting a lack of faith in the election when literally one of our commissioners has a handout declaring the election having been rigged; it’s ridiculous.”

Commissioners also approved expediting the consideration of complaints made regarding those who illegally procure absentee ballots.

Jacobs ahead of the 5-1 vote made the motion to adopt the measure. She did not argue why she wants those complaints expedited in front of the commission, but the move comes after the state Department of Justice took over investigating Wait for requesting Vos and Mason’s absentee ballots.

Spindell was the only commissioner to vote against the measure. He argued the commission shouldn’t put those complaints ahead of others that could be just as important.

Thomsen argued WEC is obligated when confronted with people who blatantly commit fraud to hold them accountable.

“With all due respect Commissioner Spindell, when we know that there are individuals that are attempting to fraudulently get into our system using other people’s names to obtain ballots, which are all potentially many, many felonies; when we know this is ongoing, we have an absolute duty to respond to known fraud, not fake fraud, but actual fraud,” he said. “And we have an obligation to move on it quickly.”

WEC also deadlocked on whether to rescind its 2016 guidance to clerks on how they can correct missing witness information on absentee ballot envelopes.

Commissioners voted 3-3 on rescinding the guidance some say tells local clerks how to cure ballot envelopes after the Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules last month suspended a 2020 WEC rule on the same guidance.

WEC attorneys have said clerks can still refer to the 2016 guidance, but the Waukesha County Republican Party has sued WEC to stop it from issuing the guidance.

GOP lawmakers have threatened legal action if the commission didn’t rescind the 2016 guidance.

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