MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Prosecutors charged a Wisconsin man Thursday with election fraud and identity theft after he acknowledged that he fraudulently requested absentee ballots in what he says was an effort to expose vulnerabilities in the state's election system.
The state Department of Justice charged 78-year-old Harry Wait with two felony counts of election fraud and two felony counts of identity theft. He would face up to 13 years in prison if convicted on all four counts.
Wait told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that he wasn't surprised he was charged.
“You got to expect to pay some costs sometimes when you are trying to work for the public good,” he said. “You can't always stay in the safe zone.”
The charges mark another bizarre chapter in a seemingly endless fight over election administration in Wisconsin, a key battleground state as the 2024 presidential election approaches.
The battle began after Joe Biden won the state in 2020, defeating former President Donald Trump by nearly 21,000 votes. Trump has refused to accept the loss, insisting the election was marred by fraud. Multiple reviews and court decisions have upheld Biden’s victory, but Trump’s supporters have spent the months since promoting his baseless claims that Biden somehow stole the election.
Wait publicly acknowledged in July that he visited the state's MyVote Wisconsin website and ordered absentee ballots in the name of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Racine Mayor Cory Mason and several other people by entering their personal information. He said he asked that the ballots be delivered to his home.
According to a criminal complaint, the Wisconsin Elections Commission notified the state Justice Department on July 28 of eight possibly fraudulent absentee ballot requests made through MyVote Wisconsin. Investigators discovered a letter that Harry Wait posted on the H.O.T. Government website. The group promotes honest, open and transparent government; Wait is the group's president.
Wait said in the letter that he had gone online and successfully ordered ballots in the name of at least two other people and had the ballots shipped to his address. The complaint identified those people only as Individual 1 and Indvidual 2.
Wait went on to say he had obtained permission from others around the state to pose as them and order their ballots shipped to his address.
“I stand ready to be charged for exposing these voting vulnerabilities when I ordered (Individual 2)'s and (Individual 1)'s absentee ballot online,” Wait wrote, according to the complaint.
Investigators also found a video of a July 28 podcast in which Wait admitted that he had ordered ballots for both people to be sent to his address as well as ballots for others with their permission. He said he expected to be arrested and called for others to request absentee ballots in others' names and have them sent to state officials.
Justice Department agents interviewed Wait on Aug. 24, according to the complaint. He told them that he requested the ballots for individual 1 and 2 on July 26 while he was at the H.O.T. Government booth at the Racine County Fair and did not have their permission. He said he knew he was committing a crime and would do it again, according to the complaint.
Wait is due to make an initial court appearance on Sept. 8.
Todd Richmond, The Associated Press