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Judge rules early voting van used in Racine was illegal

'Mobile voting units' were used in the city in 2022

a white truck with the words vote here on the side
The city of Racine’s voting truck was used in the February 2022, April 2022 and August 2022 elections. Photo courtesy of the city of Racine

A judge has ruled that state law doesn’t allow the city of Racine to use a truck as a location for in-person absentee voting.

The truck, or “mobile voting unit,” was used several times in Racine in 2022. According to a decision by Racine County Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz, it was driven to and parked near early-voting sites approved by the city. The dates and times the truck was in operation were posted by Racine City Clerk Tara McMenamin.

Gasiorkiewicz wrote that even though state election laws don’t prohibit mobile voting units, that doesn’t mean they’re allowed.

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“The absence of an express prohibition … does not mean mobile absentee ballot sites comport to procedures specified in election laws,” Gasiorkiewicz wrote.

“Nowhere can this Court find or has been provided any authority allowing the use of a van or vehicle as an alternate absentee voting vehicle,” the judge added.

The decision comes ahead of the 2024 presidential election, a race where the eyes of the nation will be on Wisconsin, one of the few battleground states that could decide the election. It also comes as scrutiny around the use of absentee ballots has increased following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, on behalf of former Racine County Republican Party Chair Kenneth Brown, filed a complaint about the practice in Racine in 2022. In the complaint, the conservative law firm argued that the voting truck violates state statute because it moved to different locations throughout the early voting period, staying at each spot for a few hours. The complaint also alleged that state statute requires in-person absentee voting to take place in a “fixed location.”

“The plain language of the statute contemplates that ‘polling places’ shall be in buildings and not in a transitory vehicle such as a van,” the complaint read.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission initially dismissed the complaint, but the ruling from Gasiorkiewicz on Monday reversed that decision. In a statement, WILL Deputy Counsel Lucas Vebber praised the ruling.

“Wisconsin voters should know that their elections are secure, and that election administration does not favor one political party over another,” Vebber wrote.

In Gasiorkiewicz’s decision, he cited a statistical study provided by WILL that found the site the van was parked at “afforded an advantage to members of the Democratic Party or those having Democratic Party leaning.” He wrote he was troubled by the Wisconsin Elections Commission’s decision to discount that study.

Gasiorkiewicz also wrote that none of the state’s election laws allow for the use of vehicles for absentee voting.

“Indeed, all relevant statutes refer to physical structures such as specifically geographically located buildings or structures,” the decision said.

The voting vehicle was purchased using money from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a group funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Elections Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Racine Clerk McMenamin said the city’s legal team is still reviewing the decision. Should the ruling be appealed, any final say could fall to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, where liberal justices currently hold a 4-3 majority.