Wisconsin activist Harry Wait charged with voter fraud

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MADISON, Wis. — Prosecutors brought voter fraud charges Thursday against a man who ordered absentee ballots in the names of two others to bolster his claims that breaking election laws is easy.

The endeavor to show election fraud is possible earned conservative activist Harry Wait two felony and two misdemeanor charges. In an interview, Wait said he stood by his decision to request that ballots be sent to his home in the names of the speaker of the state Assembly and the mayor of Racine, Wis.

“In hindsight, I’d do it all over again a hundred times over,” Wait said.

Wait is the president of a group called HOT Government, which derives its name from its pledge to advocate for “honest, open and transparent government.” He has used his platform for the last two years to question the state’s election laws and practices.

In July, he used a state online portal called MyVote Wisconsin to request primary ballots in the names of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) and Racine Mayor Cory Mason (D) — two officials he has long criticized. Mason’s ballot was sent to Wait’s home in Dover in southeastern Wisconsin, but Vos’s was not. Wait said he returned Mason’s unopened ballot to county officials.

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Soon after requesting the ballots, Wait alerted the sheriff and top prosecutor in his county to tell them what he had done and to offer himself up for arrest. Wait contended his ability to make the request showed that the MyVote portal was flawed and called for officials to shut it down.

Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling (R) told Wait he wouldn’t arrest him and praised him for alerting the public to the issue. Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul (D) soon afterwards announced that the state Justice Department was investigating the matter.

On Thursday, Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Susan Happ charged Wait with two felony counts for the unauthorized use of personally identifiable information and two misdemeanor counts of election fraud. If found guilty on all charges, Wait could face a maximum of 13 years in prison and $22,000 in fines.

The criminal complaint describes Wait as requesting ballots in the names of “Individual 1” and “Individual 2.” Other records, along with Wait’s own comments, reveal them to be Vos and Mason. The complaint says Wait ordered ballots in the names of others as well, after getting permission from them. He is not charged with any crimes for ordering those ballots.

Wait has repeatedly acknowledged he did what the criminal complaint alleges. He said Thursday that he planned to initially represent himself and would argue that he did not violate the law because he does not believe the MyVote system is legally authorized. Election officials have discounted his claims that the portal is legally invalid.

“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to protect the republic,” Wait said. “What I did is a matter of record. I provided the DOJ with everything they need to prosecute me. And I will stand in front of 12 jurors and see if they agree with the DOJ.”

Using MyVote, anyone can look up voters if they know their names and birth dates. Once logged in, they can order absentee ballots and ask that they be sent anywhere. That option is available so that voters who are temporarily away can have their ballots sent to where they are staying.

Most voters in Wisconsin must provide a copy of a photo ID the first time they request an absentee ballot. Under state law, voters who say they are indefinitely confined to their homes because of age or disability do not have to provide an ID. Wait used that function to sidestep the ID requirement, he has said.

Requesting a ballot through MyVote generates an email to the voter’s municipal clerk, who makes the ultimate decision on whether to send a ballot. The clerk in Mason’s community mailed his ballot to Wait but the one in Vos’s community did not after checking the request. She said she also stopped another ballot in Vos’s name from being sent overseas.

Voter fraud is rare. Last year, the Wisconsin Elections Commission identified 41 instances of potential voter fraud from primaries and elections in late 2020 and early 2021. That accounts for a tiny portion of the millions of ballots cast in those elections.

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