Waukesha County judge dismisses lawsuit over military voting lists

State Rep. Janel Brandtjen sued to stop military absentee ballots from being counted — a judge refused to sequester these ballots in November 2022 and ultimately dismissed the lawsuit.

Associated Press

July 31, 2023

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Janel Brandtjen stands and speaks into a wireless microphone in her left hand in a room with a wood dais desk and empty chairs in the background.

State Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, speaks at a hearing held by the Wisconsin Assembly's elections committee on Dec. 8, 2021. A Waukesha County judge has dismissed Brandtjen's 2022 challenge over military voting records, saying that the lawsuit should have been brought against a local elections official, not the Wisconsin Elections Commission. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

AP News

By Harm Verhuizen, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin judge has dismissed a GOP state lawmaker’s lawsuit over military voting records, saying July 28 that the challenge should have been brought against a local elections official, not the statewide elections commission.

Rep. Janel Brandtjen, the former head of the Assembly elections committee who has promoted election conspiracy theories, and a local veterans group sued the Wisconsin Elections Commission in November in an attempt to stop military absentee ballots from being counted in the 2022 midterm.

The lawsuit came in response to the actions of a top Milwaukee elections official who falsely requested military absentee ballots and sent them to Brandtjen’s home. Kimberly Zapata, the former deputy director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, claimed she was trying to expose a vulnerability in the voting process. She now faces charges of election fraud and misconduct in office.

Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Maxwell refused to order military absentee ballots to be sequestered in November, issuing his decision just 14 hours before polls opened.

Local elections officials are required by state law to keep a list of eligible military voters in their jurisdictions. Brandtjen and the Concerned Veterans of Waukesha County wanted to obtain updated lists to see whether clerks were complying with the law. In his ruling July 28 dismissing the lawsuit, Maxwell said it should have been filed against a municipal clerk, and not the elections commission, which is responsible for issuing guidance and providing support to local officials who actually run elections.

“The Court agrees with the assertion that WEC’s guidance ought to have more information for local election officials on how to utilize the military ballot list and perhaps how to audit the list and ballots to ensure that there are not fraudulent military ballots being cast, but the Court does not have the authority to require such additional guidance,” Maxwell said in his ruling.

Other efforts to address potential vulnerabilities in the military absentee voting process are ongoing. A bipartisan group of Wisconsin lawmakers in May proposed requiring service members to provide their Department of Defense identification number when requesting a military absentee ballot. Local clerks would then be required to verify the voter’s identity using that information.

Harm Venhuizen is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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