By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Six Kenosha residents have filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Elections Commission alleging the city allowed Mark Zuckerberg-funded, liberal groups to take over November’s election.
The action is the latest in a growing number of election law complaints against the “famous Wi-5” — Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha and Racine. But unlike in Green Bay, where the city’s clerk challenged the infiltration of the outside groups and meddling city officials, new emails show election officials in the other four Democratic Party strongholds were glad to go along for the well-funded ride.
The emails, obtained by Wisconsin Spotlight, show just how deeply entrenched the Chicago-based Center for Tech and Civic Life’s network of left-wing “partners” was in the administration of elections in the five cities. And just how partisan the activists are.
‘Democracy is a design problem’
The complaint is filed against Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian, City Clerk Matt Krauter and the Wisconsin Elections Commission Meagan Wolfe. It alleges the city violated the constitution’s Elections and Electors Clauses by signing contracts with third-party groups that allowed them to take over large facets of election administration. Similar complaints have been filed in Green Bay and Racine, where the “WI-5” was born.
“You are the famous WI-5. Congrats on successful administration of last week’s state primary!” wrote Whitney May, CTCL’s director of Government Services, to the local elections officials following August’s statewide primary elections. “Excited to see November be an even bigger success for you and your teams.”
With November in mind, May wanted to connect the group to CTCL partner, the Center for Tech and Civic Design — a Maryland-based election-administration policy organization that frequently partners with left-of-center organizations like Pierre Omidyar’s Democracy Fund. Omidyar is founder of the multinational e-commerce corporation eBay and a generous donor to Democratic causes and candidates.
The center likes to say, “democracy is a design problem,”
“The center focuses efforts on the nearly 30 million voters that are not fully fluent in English. It seeks to shape the voting experience and voting materials to ease voter comprehension and increase their voter participation,” Influencewatch notes.
Its designers crafted, among other election-related materials, the city of Madison’s Voter Pocket Guide, according to an Aug. 28 email to the group from Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl. In the email, Witzel-Behl also notes Madison’s “Democracy in the Park” events that took place in late September and early October. Voter integrity advocates describe the events as ballot-harvesting campaigns.
Connecting with Chew
In an Aug. 11 email, May introduced Kenosha Information Coordinator Michelle Nelson to Ryan Chew, Wisconsin state lead for the Elections Group, one of CTCL’s “technical assistance partners” available to support the clerk’s office.
“He and his team will be connecting with you in the coming days regarding (absentee ballot) drop boxes for November,” May wrote. Chew wanted Kenosha elections officials to get video footage of poll workers “handling mail ballots.” The images could be “used for public messaging in November.”
She sent a follow-up email to Nelson on Aug. 17 laying out precisely what Chew could do for Kenosha elections.
Chew, the former long-time deputy director of Elections for Cook County, Ill., appears to be a fierce critic of former President Trump and an avid supporter of President Joe Biden — based on his tweets in recent months.
“Congressmen @dgvaladao and @RepTomRice, thank you for your votes on impeachment, no doubt difficult for you, but important for the future of democracy. As I understand it, this was the most bipartisan impeachment vote in history,” Chew wrote on his Twitter account on Jan. 13, the day the House impeached Trump for a second time. U.S. Reps. David Conclaves Valadao (R-Calif.) and Tom Rice (R-S.C.) were among 10 House Republicans to vote for impeachment.
On Nov. 4, as the presidential election remained in doubt in key battleground states, Chew excitedly tweeted to Nate Silver, founder of political website FiveThirtyEight and Talking Points Memo founder Josh Marshall.
He also promoted Madison’s “Democracy in the Park.”
The emails show Kenosha, like the other “WI-5” cities did, signed a contract with the Center for Tech and Civic Life for the $862,779 in grant money the city received. That’s the real rub, legally speaking, according to the attorneys representing the complainants thus far in Kenosha, Green Bay, and Racine. Binding the city’s elections officials to the terms of an outside groups’ “election safety and security” contract is at odds with the constitution, which clearly designates municipal clerks and the Wisconsin Elections Commission as the only overseers of elections in the state. And the hefty grants issued to each city came with clawbacks, meaning CTCL could take back the funding if the cities didn’t do what CTCL asked.
The coordination and the interconnections between the five cities and the third-party groups is clear in the communications. In an email with the subject line, “Center for Tech & Civic Life Next Steps, Kenosha,” Vicky Selkowe, manager of Strategic Initiatives & Community Partnerships for the city of Racine, introduces Nelson and other members of the clerk/treasurer’s office to Tiana Epps-Johnson, CTCL’s founder and executive director.
“Tiana will be sending you a draft grant agreement for your review and approval on Monday,” Selkowe wrote in the July 10 email. “Tiana and her team have arranged for extensive expert technical assistance from fantastic and knowledgable partners across the country, to help each City implement our parts of the Plan.”
The “plan” is the so-called Safe Voting Plan that the five cities put together to rake in more than $6.3 million in combined CTCL grants at the time. That number would ultimately exceed $8 million. The question that no one from four of the five “Wi-5” cities seems to ask or be concerned about is, why are “experts” from all over the country coming into their cities to “help” with the November presidential elections?
CTCL received $350 million from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife to “help” local elections offices administer “safe and secure elections.”
As a Wisconsin Spotlight investigation uncovered, local elections officials worked with the center’s partner organizations, like the National Vote at Home Institute. Emails show longtime Democratic operative Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein, Wisconsin lead for the institute, was intricately involved in the administration of Green Bay’s and Milwaukee’s elections, even offering to “cure” or correct absentee ballots.
Spitzer-Rubenstein’s organization shows up in the Kenosha emails, too.
The emails also show Kenosha city officials were not shy about asking for additional help from CTCL.
“I’m preparing to discuss with (city) Administration the need for full time election specialist staff for our upcoming budget. I realize this is not grant related; however, I thought maybe someone in your group could provide some insight as to why that is useful in a City Clerk’s Office,” Nelson, the city’s information coordinator, asked CTCL’s May in an Aug. 19 email.
May was happy to oblige, sending back “language” she drafted that “may help you frame the need for more staff.”
Nelson did not return Empower Wisconsin’s call on Friday seeking comment, nor did Kenosha City Clerk Matt Kr