In Wisconsin, new absentee vote counting legislation stirs distrust and controversy

Monday Count bill would allow any city or county that uses a central count location to count its absentee ballots on Monday before Election Day.
Wisconsin election count

The Republican who led the first investigation into Wisconsin’s 2020 election says she does not trust the effort to count the state’s absentee ballots early because she doesn’t trust election officials in Milwaukee.

State Rep. Janel Brandtken told The Center Square there are serious security concerns with the Monday Count plan moving ahead at the Wisconsin Capitol.

“I get the concept, but Milwaukee has not been a trustworthy partner in elections as I have witnessed in recount, and central count elections,” Brandtjen said.

Brandtjen said her experience with former Milwaukee Elections Commission Director Kim Zapata adds to her distrust.

Zapata sent Brandtjen three military ballots ahead of the 2022 election. Zapata said she did so to expose a loophole in Wisconsin’s military ballot law. Brandtjen said she’s not so sure.

“FYI if her VPN hadn't failed we would have never known who had sent the ballots, and I would have been under suspicion,” Brandtjen said.

The Monday Count legislation would allow any city or county that uses a central count location to count its absentee ballots on the Monday before Election Day. Currently they are counted after all the other votes are counted, usually around midnight.

Supporters say allowing for an early count will avoid an overnight vote dump and help restore more faith in Wisconsin’s electoral process.

Brandtjen is worried about the potential for election chaos or voter fraud.

“Most of the states [that count ballots early] either stop registrations 29 days before, or don't have same day registrations on Election Day,” Brandtjen said. “If you know the totals, you can same-day-register individuals to make up the difference. And since there is no real time verification of IDs on Election Day, people get ballots before they are verified.”

She is also worried about the costs of an early count, namely that it requires local election clerks to prepare to open the polls and count ballots on the same day.

And Brandtjen said she has some pretty serious security fears.

“My most concerning issue is the lack of security protocols. The legislation refers to using ‘tamper evident seals’, in a double locked location, locked cabinet inside a locked office. How would you put a speed counter in a cabinet, inside an office? This means the authors believe the memory sticks are to be removed from Milwaukee’s speed counters (ballot tabulators) that would put all election results at risk,” Brandtjen said. “Removing the memory sticks is not protocol for secure elections.”

The State Assembly approved the Monday Count plan back in November. Gov. Tony Evers has said he will likely sign it if it makes it to his desk.