Expert: Gag order in Wisconsin absentee ballot fraud case makes sense with political case

MADISON, Wis. — Harry Wait, the Racine County man who was charged with fraudulently requesting absentee ballots, can no longer talk to the media about his case due to a judge’s order.

The move made sense, according to University of Wisconsin-Madison law professor John Gross, who said the judge has an interest in protecting the jury pool from being tainted by the media coverage.

“I think this case might be a particularly apt one for a gag order,” Gross said. “From what we know, we know that this was a political act that he engaged in — he’s been public about what he did, why he did it.”

Wait admitted to illegally requesting the absentee ballots in July, saying he did so to expose flaws in the online request form on a website maintained by the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The state’s top elections official said that Wait’s actions did not expose vulnerabilities in the state system and were just isolated criminal acts.

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If the judge knew Wait had admitted to fraudulently ordering the ballots, Gross said he could try and prevent him from litigating the case further in the press.

“I think part of what the judge’s gag order is taking into account is that for the defendant here, he may not have any defense at trial and this is simply a way of generating publicity,” Gross said.

“[Wait might] hope that additional publicity and his statements in the press, and jurors’ knowledge about him, might convince one of them to just simply refuse to convict him,” he added.

Wait has also chosen to represent himself in his initial court appearance and filings. Gross said that could also be a factor in the judge’s decision.

“The fact that he is going to represent himself might again relate to the gag order and signal that, if there’s a trial, it’s going to be for the purpose of advancing his ideology,” Gross said.

Wait will make another appearance in Racine County court on Sept. 19.