Of all the political grandstanding this campaign season in Wisconsin, Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney’s sad stunt is among the worst.
He’s fanning irrational fears of voter fraud — which has become disturbingly common in Republican primaries — and he’s throwing the book at ordinary people who made small mistakes when casting ballots to participate in their democracy.
Awkwardly, Toney even charged a Trump supporter voting for the first time in the 2020 election.
Toney’s rash approach to the law doesn’t instill confidence in his bid to become attorney general. The Wisconsin State Journal editorial board isn’t endorsing in any of Tuesday’s primary races. As usual, we’ll wait for the general election to recommend candidates.
Yet statewide voters should remember Toney’s willingness to harass and harm people for perceived and narrow political advantage.
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Toney charged five Fond du Lac County residents with election fraud for using a UPS Store as their voting address.
This includes Jamie Wells, 53, who said her vote for then-President Donald Trump in 2020 was the first time she cast a ballot. She told Wisconsin Watch she didn’t know state law requires a residential address to register to vote. The law makes an exception for people without traditional housing, but that requires more documentation.
Wells and her husband, whom Toney also charged, have used the UPS Store in Fond du Lac as their address for decades. They don’t have a residential address, Wells said, because the couple lives in a 42-foot trailer. Her husband works on farms across the state, so they live in the camper. Yet they consider Fond du Lac their home.
Toney “seems to think I’m a criminal,” Wells told Wisconsin Watch in a recent report in the State Journal. “And that’s the part that upsets me most.”
Every voter should be upset, not just the handful Toney is trying to make into examples. More than 150 other people across Wisconsin used post office boxes as addresses during the same election, and they aren’t being prosecuted. A warning not to do it again would have been the commonsense solution.
But Toney wants to appeal to Trump’s staunchest followers in Tuesday’s GOP primary election.
Trump has lied about widespread voter fraud — which doesn’t exist — to try to explain away his loss to President Joe Biden. Trump all but requires GOP candidates seeking his endorsement to regurgitate his false claims. Yet dozens of court rulings, independent audits and official recounts have consistently shown that Biden won, including by more than 20,000 votes in Wisconsin.
The few discrepancies Trump loyalists have uncovered don’t come close to changing that. And in Well’s case, throwing out her vote would have widened Biden’s victory.
Toney no doubt hoped that criminally charging a handful of Fond du Lac area residents for using post office boxes as voting addresses would convince more Trump supporters to back him in Tuesday’s primary. He faces Adam Jarchow and Karen Mueller for the GOP nomination. The winner will challenge Democratic incumbent Attorney General Josh Kaul on Nov. 8.
But fraud charges should apply to people trying to deceive — not to an honest mistake involving a single ballot.
The Wellses have been used as political props and shouldn’t be threatened with felonies carrying penalties of up to 3½ years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Even the $500 fine and court costs Toney secured against a different defendant, after dismissing a felony count for a misdemeanor conviction, seems excessive.
Wells said she and her husband have had to borrow money to cover what they expect will be about $17,000 in legal bills.
At the state GOP convention, Toney touted himself as “one the most aggressive prosecutors of election fraud” in Wisconsin.
By charging Wells and other eligible voters with felonies, Toney has shown he’s one of the most irresponsible and foolish.