A far-left, Madison-based judge has struck another blow against election integrity in battleground Wisconsin, a swing state expected to play a pivotal role in deciding November’s presidential election.
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Ryan Nilsestuen, who previously served as Democrat Gov. Tony Evers’ top attorney, sided with the leftist League of Women Voters of Wisconsin in a ruling that would allow local elections officials to correct — or “cure” — absentee ballots with missing or incorrect information.
The ruling, issued Tuesday, collides with the conservative Waukesha County Circuit Court opinion in 2022 that found Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) guidance allowing “curing” of absentee ballot envelopes defied state election law. Judge Michael J. Aprahamian at the time prohibited WEC “from providing any advice or guidance that municipal clerks or other local election officials have the duty or ability to modify or add information to absentee ballot certifications.”
Nilsestuen’s liberal ruling finds otherwise, agreeing with the League of Women Voters and its well-heeled left-wing law firms that rejecting absentee ballots for “trivial errors” runs afoul of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
“[T]he Witness Address Requirement is not material to whether a voter is qualified. … As such, rejecting ballots for trivial mistakes in the Witness Address requirement directly violates the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Nilsestuen wrote.
Witnesses to absentee votes must provide their signatures and addresses on the ballot envelopes under state election law. Statute does not grant authority to Wisconsin elections officials to modify absentee ballot certificates. Aprahamian ruled that the Wisconsin Elections Commission doesn’t have the power to order clerks to cure ballots.
Voting in ‘Crisis’
In many cases, there was nothing “trivial” about the missing or erroneous ballot certificate information amid the flood of absentee ballots that inundated local election offices in the 2020 presidential elections. Some ballots in question were replete with omissions or errors. The issue raised serious voter-integrity questions.
Under the cover of a Covid “crisis,” leftist “voting rights” activists realized their long-sought dream to standardize voting by mail. In the tightly contested election, where Democrat Joe Biden narrowly claimed victory over Republican incumbent President Donald Trump in battleground Wisconsin, election-integrity advocates cried foul. Left-wing cities like Madison were sites of massive ballot-harvesting initiatives, while the election commission allowed widespread use of absentee ballot drop boxes in defiance of state election law. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ultimately declared the commission’s guidance on drop boxes invalid.
Biden was declared the victor in Wisconsin by some 20,000 votes out of more than 3.2 million cast. Biden claimed Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes by a margin of less than 1 percent.
As The Federalist reported in 2021, a Democrat Party operative employed with the National Vote at Home Institute worked closely with local elections officials in Wisconsin’s five largest and Democrat-heavy cities. Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein, emails show, told Green Bay election officials he could help with “curing” absentee ballots.
“Can we help with curing absentee ballots that are missing a signature or witness signature address?” he wrote to then-Green Bay City Clerk Kris Teske in an Oct. 7, 2020, email.
While the Wisconsin Elections Commission permitted clerks to fix absentee ballot errors or omissions, it didn’t say former Democrat Party operatives could “help.” Spitzer-Rubenstein’s efforts were funded as part of hundreds of millions of dollars in so-called “safe elections” grants underwritten by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife.
Legal battles over curing ballot information also have been waged in the battleground states of Michigan and Pennsylvania.
The League of Women Voters in Wisconsin celebrated its victory, which appears destined for appeal.
“All voters deserve to have their votes counted regardless of whether they vote in person or absentee,” said Debra Cronmiller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, in a statement. “Small errors or omissions on the absentee certificate envelope should not prevent voters from exercising their constitutional rights.”
Eroding Trust in Elections
The state’s League of Women Voters is backed by deep-pocketed, leftist law firms, including the Fair Elections Center and Law Forward. The former is billed by the accomplice media as a nonpartisan litigation and election policy advocate, but it “originated as a project of the center-left funding and fiscal sponsorship group New Venture Fund,” according to Influence Watch. Law Forward is a Wisconsin-based coalition of law firms and advocacy groups pushing a leftist “voting rights” agenda. Both widely engage in leftist lawfare aimed at eroding election integrity.
Nilsestuen, the Dane County judge, served as Evers’ chief legal counsel, advising the far-left governor on his tyrannical state lockdown policies during Covid and an array of big-government initiatives. Evers rewarded Nilsestuen with an appointment to Dane County Circuit Court Branch 10 a little over a year ago.
State Sen. Dan Knodl, R-Germantown, who chairs the Senate’s elections committee, noted that Nilsestuen wrote the legal opinions defending Evers’ unsuccessful plan to delay the 2020 spring and presidential primary elections because of the Covid “health emergency.”
“Now he’s a judge in Dane County and that’s political patronage for sure,” the lawmaker said.
Knodl said an appeals court will have to sort out the conflicting circuit court opinions. He added that the left has been governing by lawsuit since the Republican revolution of 2010, when conservatives took control of the Wisconsin Legislature and the governor’s office. It was then, led by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, that Wisconsin saw sweeping government reforms, including voter-integrity measures like photo ID.
With Evers’ vetoing a raft of Republican-led election reform bills and leftists taking over the Wisconsin Supreme Court last year, Knodl says he’s concerned about election integrity this critical election year.
“It puts into question what kind of trust and faith you have in elections,” the senator said.