Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Dan Bice Undermines Elections Commission

Journal Sentinel reporter’s attack helps reinforce election lies.

By - Nov 14th, 2022 03:16 pm
Dan Bice and Ann Jacobs.

Dan Bice and Ann Jacobs.

Journal Sentinel columnist Dan Bice operates as a kind of one-man dirt patrol, looking to expose missteps and misdeeds by elected officials, which give his pronouncements some weight.

So it was noteworthy that his post-midterm roundup of election winners and losers included the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) as one of just four losers. Bice blamed the commission because “Two people… helped expose shortcomings” in the state’s absentee voting system. “It shouldn’t have been that easy to get the fraudulent ballots. But it was. Now both incidents will serve as fodder for… Republican lawmakers as they decide the fate of the beleaguered commission.”

Bice did not explain how he reached his conclusion that the Elections Commission was at fault (and did not respond to a question from Urban Milwaukee). But if anyone is to blame, it would be the state Legislature, which created the rules for the bipartisan commission made up of three Republican and three Democratic appointees, and whose current chair is Republican Don Millis, an appointee of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

As Democratic appointee Ann Jacobs noted in an interview with Urban Milwaukee, the commission “follows state statute. The Legislature has made decisions on how we are to allow people to accommodate absentee ballots.”

One of the fraudulent absentee ballot incidents involved Milwaukee Election Commission Deputy Director Kimberly Zapata, who got it into her head to request three military ballots with the names of three fictitious voters, and then send these to a Republican legislator to expose the shortcomings of the absentee voting system.

The idea that military voters might be cheating in elections is a new one and there is no proof of this. “I don’t know of any military ballot where fraud occurred,” says Jacobs, who has been on the commission since 2016. The WEC does annual reports on election fraud and the total number of incidents of any kind is tiny.

But if there ever was to be fraud by military voters, that would be because the Republican-led Legislature, whose leaders were gleeful about photo ID requirements and how that would suppress the votes of urban minorities and college students, made no such requirements for military voters. They are not required to register before voting in an election and do not need to provide proof of identification or residence to request an absentee ballot, as Zapata noted.

Why would the Legislature relax its draconian rules for military voters? Because they tend to lean Republican and have always been seen as a boon to GOP candidates. Bice, who has been covering politics for decades, surely knows this. So why was he blaming the elections commission rather than the Legislature?

The other example of absentee voter fraud involved Harry Wait, a leader of a Racine County-based group that promotes false claims of voter fraud. Wait posed as Vos and Racine Mayor Cory Mason and requested their ballots in order to show violations of the law are possible.

Certainly it’s possible to do this, but had anyone ever done so prior to Wait? Again, Jacobs could recall no example in the WEC’s annual reports on fraud. The reason is obvious: after falsely requesting “one or two or maybe three ballots you are going to get discovered and charged with a criminal penalties,” Jacobs notes. Wait was charged with two counts of misdemeanor election fraud and two counts of felony identity theft and could face up to 13 years in prison.

After Wait publicized his action the WEC voted to send postcards to more than 12,000 voters who requested absentee ballots to addresses other than what’s on file, to verify that no one had falsely requested a ballot in their name. Not one voter reported that this happened.

Vos reacted to Wait’s crime not by blaming the WEC but blaming Wait: “Yesterday, I learned that one of the top volunteers for my primary opponent’s campaign admitted to fraudulently posing as me and attempting to steal my ballot,” Vos said. “His actions are sad. If election integrity means anything, it means we all have to follow the law — Republicans and Democrats alike.”

What Wait did, Jacobs told the Washington Post, was “like walking into Walmart and picking up a large-screen TV and walking out the door with it and then going to the cops and saying, ‘It’s really easy to steal this.’”

For Bice to blame the elections commission for Wait’s crime is rather like blaming the highway patrol for drivers who exceed the speeding limit. It’s frankly, a bit idiotic.

But it’s also irresponsible ”and does nothing but fuel the one-sided election denialism that brought us January 6,” as liberal blogger Jay Bullock tweeted. It helps undermine a bipartisan citizen board whose members have devoted many hours of meetings to making sure our elections both accessible and secure.

And with great success. As conservative columnist and business executive John Torinus has written, the 2020 election in Wisconsin was remarkably clean, with a minuscule amount of fraud. “Anyone in business who uses statistics to strive for defect-free processes knows that the small number of defective ballots out of thousands and millions of votes passed is a remarkable feat of process control. That small number of rejected ballots is incontrovertible proof that we had sound elections last year. No empty rhetoric to the contrary stands up.”

To its credit, the Journal Sentinel has called out the lies by Republican election deniers like U.S. Senator Ron Johnson and congressmen Scott Fitzgerald and Tom Tiffany. Meanwhile the newspaper’s columnist is helping undermine the still-fragile cause of democracy in Wisconsin.

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2 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Dan Bice Undermines Elections Commission”

  1. Kate says:

    Thank you, Bruce for calling out Dan Bice’s odd accusation about the Election Commission. It didn’t make sense to me when I first saw it in the Journal Sentinel. Now, after reading your penetrating analysis, it will make me question Dan’s observations about most anything going forward. What’s his agenda?

  2. says:

    Nice is like an old washed up fighter looking for lost glory in bar fights.

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