MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party warned Milwaukee's chief elections official that it would be illegal for any Milwaukee Bucks or Brewers players or mascots, including the Brewers' famous racing sausages, to participate in early voting events planned at their stadiums in the days leading up to the election.
Also on Wednesday, five voters in Madison asked a judge to declare that a city-organized event to collect absentee ballots was legal, even though an attorney for Republican legislative leaders said it was not. The city collected more than 10,000 absentee ballots last weekend and planned to hold another day-long event on Saturday.
Milwaukee and Madison are liberal strongholds in the swing state. Strong Democratic turnout in those cities is key to the strategy of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. President Donald Trump's campaign would benefit from suppressed turnout there.
Republicans in Wisconsin and around the country have been aggressively challenging what they see as any attempt to expand voting opportunities beyond what the law allows. Democrats accuse Republicans of trying to confuse voters and make it more difficult for Democrats to cast ballots.
The Republican National Committee and Wisconsin Republicans on Wednesday were fighting a federal court ruling that will allow absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted for up to six days afterward. Less than two hours after asking a federal appeals court to suspend its ruling allowing the six-day window, the court denied the Republicans' request.
Milwaukee plans to allow for in-person absentee voting at Miller Park and Fiserv Forum between Oct. 20 and Nov. 1. Voters can vote early in person or also return their mailed absentee ballots.
The Republican Party’s chairman, Andrew Hitt, sent the warning letter to Claire Woodall-Vogg, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, even though there’s no indication that members of either team planned to be at their venues on Election Day.
“It seems kind of silly to be worried about racing sausages, but the larger point is the law is pretty clear,” Hitt told The Associated Press by phone on Wednesday.
Woodall-Vogg said there would be no illegal electioneering at either location. She said the decision to use Miller Park and Fisev Forum as early voting sites was based on finding a safe location to vote during the coronavirus pandemic.
Hitt said he was concerned because a voter registration event at Miller Park on Sept. 22 featured the Brewers' racing sausages, a fan favorite featured at every home game. He cited a state law that defines illegal electioneering as “any activity which is intended to influence voting at an election.”
“All of the Bucks' and Brewers' athletes and mascots are, of course, beloved of their fans, so their presence at a venue is undoubtedly something of significant value,” Hitt wrote. “Consequently, it would be inappropriate for them to be at Miller Park or Fiserv Forum while those venues are in use as alternate absentee ballot sites.”
Tyler Barnes, a spokesman for the Brewers, said there was no plan to have any players or mascots present. The Bucks had no comment.
There's a different issue in Madison that doesn't involve sausages.
The city elections clerk on Saturday sent poll workers to every city park to register voters and accept absentee ballots. Misha Tseytlin, an attorney for Republican state lawmakers, sent a letter to City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl the day before urging her to cancel the event. He said Wisconsin law doesn’t allow it and a judge would likely invalidate any ballots collected in the parks.
Five voters filed a lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court on Wednesday. Three cast ballots at the city's event last weekend and said they were afraid their ballots would be challenged in court and could be invalidated. The other two wanted to submit their ballots at the upcoming event but said they won't because of concerns over a potential GOP lawsuit.
“We’re asking a court to quash cynical efforts to cast doubt on the legality of this event and thereby to suppress the votes of some Madison residents,” attorney Doug Poland said in a statement.
Tseytlin and the Republicans he represents did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hitt, speaking before the lawsuit was filed, said he did not think it would be illegal on its face. As long as poll workers follow the law and don't do things like hand out ballots or sign as a witness without actually seeing the voter fill out the ballot, Hitt said Republicans have no objections and would not sue.
However, Hitt said Republicans have observers in place and if they see a violation “we’ll be in court within minutes to an hour of observing that.”
“As long as they are following the law, we’re not going to cause any trouble," he said.
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