Racine Judge Rules Against Mobile Absentee Voting Sites, Partial Win for Republicans

MADISON, Wisconsin – In a recent ruling, a Racine County judge has declared that Wisconsin law does not permit the use of mobile absentee voting sites. This decision represents a partial victory for Republicans who had contested the deployment of a mobile voting van during the 2022 elections in Racine. The van had traveled throughout the city, collecting early ballots and meeting voters in their neighborhoods. The complaint lodged with the Wisconsin Elections Commission alleged that the van was disproportionately utilized in heavily Democratic voting wards.

The judge, Racine County Circuit Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz, rejected a complaint that sought to prohibit the placement of fixed early absentee voting sites in various locations within the city. According to Judge Gasiorkiewicz, interpreting the state’s election laws to allow for the use of mobile voting vehicles would be “a bridge too far.”

One of the notable aspects of this case is the origin of the van. It was initially obtained by the city in 2022 through a grant from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which is funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife. Encouraged by the use of private grants to support elections, Republicans have argued against their utilization, claiming that they give an advantage to cities with higher concentrations of Democratic voters.

The judge’s decision overturns a previous finding by the Wisconsin Elections Commission that had deemed the van a legal polling place. In question was a state election statute that allows municipalities to designate a location, other than the office of the municipal clerk or board of election commissioners, for absentee ballot requests and returns. However, the statute also stipulates that no site can provide an advantage to any political party and requires that absentee ballot collection sites be located as near as possible to a clerk’s office.

Racine officials have refuted allegations that the mobile van was selectively dispatched to areas where Democratic voters are more prevalent. They argue that any perception of bias results from a misunderstanding of the city’s wards, which historically lean Democratic.

While Judge Gasiorkiewicz agreed with the defendants that there is no state law explicitly banning the use of mobile voting sites, he ultimately concluded that there is no provision allowing for their use either. The judge also dismissed other aspects of the complaint, including the claim that in-person absentee voting sites must be physically close to the municipal clerk’s office.

It is important to note that the judge’s ruling does not express an opinion on the effectiveness of mobile vans in facilitating in-person absentee balloting. As Judge Gasiorkiewicz emphasized, the determination of such matters should be directed by the legislature and not be a novel creation of executive branch officials.

In summary, a Racine County judge has determined that Wisconsin law does not permit the use of mobile absentee voting sites. This ruling follows a complaint filed by Republicans who challenged the deployment of a mobile voting van in Racine during the 2022 elections. The judge’s decision reverses a previous finding by the Wisconsin Elections Commission and underlines the need for the legislature to provide guidance on the use of mobile vans for in-person absentee balloting.