Will Flanders & Dylan Palmer:

Using funding from the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), the City of Racine purchased a mobile voting unit for use in the 2022 elections. The unit (see pictured vehicle) visits various designated locations around the city for the purpose of early voting (called “in-person absentee voting” in Wisconsin). However, concerns have been raised about the extent to which the mobile unit complies with Wisconsin state law, including a law which prohibits an absentee balloting location which “affords an advantage to any political party.” In this report, we analyze several issues and provide a statistical analysis as to whether Racine’s designated locations provide one party an advantage over the other. We find that the Democratic Party is advantaged by the locations designated by Racine.

Among the key findings of this report:

• State law forbids absentee ballot locations that confer a partisan advantage.

• The City of Racine assigned more potential mobile voting locations to wards that
vote at the highest percentage for Democrats. Based on the selection method used by Racine, a hypothetical ward with 100% Democratic voters could be expected to have 2.2 more possible locations per 100 registered voters than a ward with 0% Democratic voters.

• Similarly, the number of mobile unit locations selected for the 2022 Primary in a ward is correlated with the percentage of votes for Democrats in that ward.

• State law also requires that alternative voting sites be as close as practicable to City Hall, but Racine has not done that in their selection of locations. We have identified a number of locations closer to City Hall that were approved as potential sites for the mobile voting unit, but were not selected for actual use during the primary election.

• The mobile voting unit is likely in violation of other requirements for absentee voting in Wisconsin. This includes the requirement that voting take place in a fixed structure—a building—and not a vehicle that allows for in-person absentee voting for a short period of time in a variety of places. It also makes Wisconsin’s ban on electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place extremely difficult to enforce.

It is vital that policymakers craft election practices that ensure every citizen has an equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process. Whether intentional or not, the City of Racine has exhibited a bias towards one political party in the selection of locations for their mobile voting unit. Because ensuring fairness in the use of a mobile voting unit would be extremely difficult for any municipality, our recommendation is that Racine refrain from utilizing the unit, and that such mobile voting units not be used by any municipality in the future unless specifically authorized by the legislature.
Wisconsin Institute f