City of

District 6

Alder Brian Benford

Image of Alder Brian Benford

Alder Brian Benford

Contact Information

Home Address:

2273 E. Washington Ave #1
Madison , WI 53704

Council Office

Common Council Office:
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Room 417
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
WI Relay Service

Alder Benford’s Updates

Voting Update: Democracy in the Park statement from City Clerk and City Attorney

September 26, 2020 12:06 PM

Democracy in the Park Statement of Madison City Clerk

Friday, September 25, 2020 - 3:29pm

Democracy in the Park is an event created by, planned by, staffed by, and paid for by the City Clerk's Office.  This event will simply make it easier for residents who have received their requested absentee ballot to drop it off in person.

This is not in-person absentee voting. Poll workers will not be able to issue anyone a ballot at the park. The only way to receive a ballot right now is through the mail. In-person absentee voting begins October 20, and voters will be able to receive and cast an absentee ballot at any of our absentee voting sites at that time.

The poll workers in each City park tomorrow have taken an oath of office. They are the same dedicated public servants who administer elections at your polling place on Election Day.

Absentee voting by mail is underway. Voters may return their absentee ballots by mail, or in person. Our ballot drop boxes are still on order, and voters have been requesting a location close to home where they can deliver their ballot.

By having poll workers receive the delivery of the absentee ballot, we are able to double-check that the voter has completed the certificate envelope so the ballot can be counted at the polls on Election Day.

Voters who want a poll worker to serve as their absentee witness need to bring their ballot and envelope from home, show the blank ballot to the poll worker, mark the ballot in a way that the poll worker cannot see how they are voting, and then seal the ballot in the envelope they received in the mail.

The City Clerk's Office is non-partisan. Regardless of who people vote for, our goal is that each eligible voter will be able to cast a ballot and have that ballot counted. 

Info about event and participating parks


Today, Saturday September 26, the City Attorney Mike Haas sent alders an email:

Dear Alders:


I am providing an update regarding two legal developments regarding elections administration in the City:


1.A federal lawsuit has been filed in the Eastern District of Wisconsin against the Cities of Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Racine and Kenosha.  The complaint is attached. The plaintiffs allege that these cities have improperly accepted election grants from the nonprofit organization Center for Technology and Civic Life.  The lawsuit requests an injunction prohibiting the City from spending the grant funds.  We were advised the Court may wish to hold a conference call Monday afternoon but we have not been given a time yet and the City has not even been served with the lawsuit.  We will be defending against the lawsuit which contains some significant legal flaws.


2.Yesterday afternoon the City was notified that a letter addressed to the City Clerk regarding the Democracy in the Parks event had been distributed to the media.  I have attached the letter from Attorney Misha Tseytlin which was sent on behalf of the Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader.  The letter alleges, without citing any legal authority, that the City is illegally collecting absentee ballots.  That, of course, is not true.  I have also attached my response to Attorney Tseytlin.


Because these matters are being covered by the media, I wanted to make sure you had the information this weekend.  Please let me know if you have any questions.




Here is the statement from the Madison City Attorney Michael Haas to Misha Tseytlin, the attorney who sent a letter to the City Clerk "on behalf of Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Wisconsin State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, regarding the imminent, illegal collection of absentee ballots that your office intends to perform tomorrow through your so-called "Democracy in the Park" campaign". 


September 26, 2020

Attorney Misha Tseytlin Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP

227 W. Monroe Street, Suite 3900 Chicago, IL 60606


Dear Misha:

I am responding to your letter to Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl regarding the City's Democracy in the Park event being held this weekend to facilitate voter registration and the legal return and collection of absentee ballots.


Your letter states that this event constitutes an "illegal collection of ballots" and "falls outside lawful categories" but you provide absolutely no legal support for that allegation. You simply cite statutes that outline the process for absentee voting. If you could please identify a statute that you believe is being violated, I could try to respond to your broad unsupported allegations.


You also state that the threat to ballot integrity is manifestly obvious. The procedures that the City Clerk has established to secure ballots are equivalent to the procedures used to secure all absentee ballots, which your clients have helped to establish in Wisconsin Statutes and found to be acceptable. Sworn election officials will retrieve ballots that have already been issued and will ensure that ballots are properly witnessed and are secured in sealed in absentee ballot envelopes and ballot containers with tamper-evident seals, to be tabulated on Election Day. The election officials will maintain a chain of custody log that is open to public inspection. No new ballots will be issued in the parks.


As you know, both major political parties are able to nominate election officials to work at polling places. The City of Madison invited election officials nominated by both the Republican and Democratic Parties to work at Democracy in the Park, and received no complaints or concerns regarding the procedures to be used from those officials.


You also state that there is no justification for this "ad hoc, unsecure and unlawful approach." Clearly this event is neither unsecure nor unlawful or you would have cited a relevant prohibition. And the definition of "ad hoc" is "for this purpose only." The September 26, 2020 justification to sponsor this event "for this purpose only" is that COVID-19 has placed significant pressure on both voters and election officials to facilitate as much voting as possible prior to Election Day. Governmental leaders from both political parties have acknowledged this reality and encouraged voters to submit ballots early. In addition, the well-publicized challenges of the U.S. Postal Service have diminished the public's trust in that agency to deliver ballots in a timely and transparent manner.


Your letter states that there is a "grave risk" that all of the ballots collected at Democracy in the Park will be challenged in court and ultimately invalidated. You cite Wis. Stat. § 6.93 in support of this statement. That statute states that absentee ballots may be challenged for cause. The administrative rules implementing that statute establish specific reasons for challenging a voter when the challenger has first-hand knowledge to suspect that the voter is not a qualified elector because 1) the person is not a citizen of the United States; 2) the person is not at least 18 years of age; 3) the person has not resided in the election district for at least 10 days; 4) the person has a felony conviction and has not been restored to civil rights; 5) the person has been adjudicated incompetent; or 6) the person has voted previously in the same election. See EL §§ 9.01 and 9.02, Wis. Adm. Code.


The allowable reasons do not include that the challenger does not like the manner in which an absentee ballot is returned. Any elector who abuses the right to challenge may be subject to sanctions under Wis. Stat. §7.41(3). EL § 9.02, Wis. Adm. Code. Given these provisions, I do not understand why you believe Wis. Stat. § 6.93 supports your threat that all ballots collected at Democracy in the Park are subject to challenge. If you have some legal basis for that statement, please share it so that the City can address your concern before the election and resolve any confusion that your allegations have caused. If there is no legal basis, we request that you retract your letter to Clerk Witzel-Behl.


Absent any directive from the Wisconsin Elections Commission or a court, the City will proceed with Democracy in the Park, and it will process the ballots collected with other absentee ballots pursuant to Wisconsin Statutes. All voters are welcome to participate and observe the process which is designed to bring the entire community together to participate in democracy. I trust that is a goal you and your clients can support.


Finally, I invite you and your clients to pick up the phone and contact me or the City Clerk if you have additional questions or concerns about the manner in which the City of Madison conducts elections. I am glad to discuss your questions directly so that we can alleviate any concerns you and your clients may have, rather than having to obtain your letter from the media. This tactic demeans the seriousness of your allegations and signals a desire to simply discourage participation by voters in Madison.


Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. 


Mike Haas


Tags: Voting

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