U.S. Senate candidate files pair of lawsuits in Wisconsin over ballots and voting machines

·2 min read
Stephanie Rushing, a election service coordinator with the City of Milwaukee Election Commission counts ballots as City of Milwaukee Election Commission workers were processing absentee ballots on the fourth floor of an office building at 501 W. Michigan Ave. in Milwaukee  on April 13, 2020.
Stephanie Rushing, a election service coordinator with the City of Milwaukee Election Commission counts ballots as City of Milwaukee Election Commission workers were processing absentee ballots on the fourth floor of an office building at 501 W. Michigan Ave. in Milwaukee on April 13, 2020.

MADISON – A Democrat running for U.S. Senate filed a pair of lawsuits Tuesday alleging Wisconsin election officials aren't keeping ballots secret in some cases and are not properly vetting voting machines.

In one case, Peter Peckarsky asked a Milwaukee County judge to order the state Elections Commission to bar Milwaukee and other cities from marking absentee ballots with numbers that could reveal how individual voters cast their ballots. In the other case, Peckarsky is seeking to force the commission to more thoroughly scrutinize voting machine software.

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Most communities in Wisconsin count their absentee ballots at polling places, but Milwaukee and about three dozen other municipalities count theirs in one location. State law requires those that count them in one spot to write the poll list numbers of absentee voters on the back of their ballots.

Both the ballots and poll list numbers are available under the state’s open records law. That could lead to members of the public figuring out how individual voters cast their ballots, violating the state's guarantee of secret ballots, Peckarsky argues in one of his lawsuits.

Whether that could actually happen is not clear.

Milwaukee blacks out the poll list number on ballots when people make public records requests. That prevents anyone from deciphering how others vote. Whether all other communities follow the same practice is unknown.

Peckarsky is seeking to invalidate the law requiring election officials to write poll list numbers on absentee ballots. That would ensure no one's votes are publicly disclosed, he argued in one of his lawsuits.

About 40 communities use central counting locations for absentee ballots, including Milwaukee, Brookfield, Franklin and Menomonee Falls.

The second lawsuit argues the commission is not following a state law that requires the commission to keep copies of voting machine software. The lawsuit says the state keeps the software with an escrow company instead of retaining it itself.

Peckarsky also contends the commission isn't following a state law that requires it to ensure ballot tabulators can detect errors.

Few major errors have been found with voting machines in Wisconsin. A nonpartisan legislative audit released in October found they worked properly in 2020. Hand recounts that were conducted in some counties in 2016 revealed no major discrepancies in vote counting.

Peckarsky is making a longshot bid in a crowded Democratic primary that will decide who can challenge Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Oshkosh.

Other Democrats in the race include Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson.

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Senate candidate files lawsuits in Wisconsin over ballots and voting machines

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