Racine voter admits to election fraud, state officials and elections commission condemn the stunt

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- State and local election officials are condemning a Racine County man who admitted to authorities he intentionally committed voter fraud to try and expose vulnerabilities.

The state's elections commission says no such vulnerabilities exist.

Harry Wait, who leads a government transparency organization which focuses on voting issues, told multiple media outlets he was aware he committed a crime when he requested absentee ballots in the name of Racine Mayor Cory Mason and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Wisconsin's MyVote.com website.

“What I did was illegal. Not only illegal, it was criminal. But I’m guided by a moral compass. Because something is illegal, does that mean we shouldn’t do it?” Wait said in a phone interview with the Racine Journal Times. “I want to prove this can happen. Do we want to invite banks to leave their doors open to see if all the money gets stolen? No. The system is unsecure. It’s a joke.”

His actions outraged election officials and led to an emergency meeting held by the Wisconsin Elections Commission Thursday evening, on July 28.

Megan Wolfe, the administrator of WEC, said the attempts to expose vulnerability in the system were wrong and "attempting to vote an absentee ballot in the name of another person has long been, and continues to be, a crime."

In an earlier statement, she said, "Intentionally using someone else’s identity to subvert the system does not demonstrate a flaw with MyVote, but rather a flaw with that person’s conduct."

It's a misdemeanor to falsely request an absentee ballot, and obtaining that ballot on another voter's behalf is a felony under Wisconsin law.

During Thursday's meeting, commissioners signaled support for referring criminal charges against Wait, but ultimately decided against the move to address the issue during a meeting next week.

Instead, the bipartisan commission, composed of three Democrats and three Republicans, approved a motion 6-0 to send postcards to voters whose information may have been compromised by Wait and others. Commissioners also unanimously agreed to inform municipal and county clerks of the situation and encouraged them to flag potential cases of fraud to local district attorneys.

Commissioner Ann Jacobs, a Democrat, said she was furious over Wait's actions and had hoped the commission would have recommended charges immediately.

"I'm astonished and outraged that he thinks this is something cute, when what he's doing is committing crimes and bragging about it in an attempt to undermine our voting system," Jacobs said.

On Wednesday, Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling alerted election officials by posting on Facebook warning them about the vulnerabilities within the MyVote website, which allows voters to request and track their absentee ballots.

Schmaling has accused state election officials of violating the law over allegations of voter abuse in nursing homes, but no District Attorney has agreed to prosecute his claims of fraud.

It's unclear if Wait is in custody after admitting to the crimes.

On Thursday, Mason called Wait a felon trying to steal votes. In a statement he said, "I was outraged to receive an email yesterday from Mr. Wait in which he openly admits to committing a felony by illegally requesting my absentee ballot be sent to him."

Speaker Vos blasted Wait, a self-described anti-fraud activist, after realizing he was a target.

Vos said, "Yesterday, I learned that one of the top volunteers for my primary opponent’s campaign admitted to fraudulently posing as me and attempting to steal my ballot," Vos said in a statement. "His actions are sad. If election integrity means anything, it means we all have to follow the law — Republicans and Democrats alike."

The WEC maintains voter fraud is extremely rare in Wisconsin, and multiple checks remain in place to ensure elections are safe and accurate.

At Thursday's WEC meeting, Democratic Commissioner Mark Thomsen called for swift action, saying, "People decided intentionally to break the law and commit fraud. As soon as a few people go to prison for falsely using names, that's going to stop."

The Wisconsin Elections Commission says anyone who has credible information an absentee ballot has been fraudulently requested should contact local law enforcement or the local FBI field office.

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