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Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010

Tea Partiers and Republicans Plan Election Day Blitz

Discussions reveal plans to challenge voters at the polls and end Election Day registration

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Another election, another round of unproven allegations about widespread voter fraud.

This year, though, it appears that tea party groups and the Republican Party of Wisconsin (RPW) are planning to act on the “widespread voter fraud” myth by trying to suppress the vote of minority citizens and students.

The plan was exposed by One Wisconsin Now (OWN), which obtained a recording of a June 12 conversation of tea party supporters in Marshfield.

According to the transcript of the conversation—which can be found at www.savewisconsinsvote2010.org—the groups had discussed using Republican Party voting records to identify lapsed voters and to send mass mailings to voters requesting a verification of their addresses. If a mailing is returned as undeliverable, or, potentially, if a voter simply does not respond to a mailing, then the groups will challenge that voter’s ballot.

The discussion also reveals that Tim Dake, head of the tea party group Wisconsin GrandSons of Liberty, said that Reince Priebus, chair of the state Republican Party, had consented to the plan—“I’m in,” Priebus had said, according to Dake.

Mark Block, state director of the corporate funders of the tea party movement, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), had also agreed to be involved, Dake said.

Block told a reporter that 500 letters have already been sent to the Milwaukee area.

The groups said they want to train supporters so that they can challenge voters at the polls on Election Day, and discussed targeting students and minority voters, mainly in Milwaukee and Dane counties.

The transcript also includes favorable discussion of a bill to be introduced by state Rep. Joel Kleefisch and state Rep. Don Pridemore, both Republicans, that would end Election Day registration.

Conservatives’ Plan Could Violate Law

OWN has sent letters to U.S. Attorney John Vaudreuil, state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and the state Government Accountability Board (GAB) requesting an investigation into these activities, known as “voter caging.” Voter caging is illegal since it suppresses the vote, especially among minority citizens.

“The plans outlined by the Tea Party, RPW and AFP have the clear potential to violate federal law,” wrote Scot Ross, executive director of OWN, in his letter to Vaudreuil. “Statements made during the June 12 meeting make clear that race is a motivating factor in the planned caging and challenge effort. Whether the organizations challenge voters as private citizens or follow through with their plans to conduct the challenges as official poll workers (and, thus, state actors), the activity may be illegal.”

Reid Magney, a spokesman for the Government Accountability Board, couldn’t comment on OWN’s allegations and complaint. But Magney did confirm that, contrary to the assertions by the conservative groups, no widespread voter fraud has been identified in the state. A few double voters and ineligible voters turn up occasionally and are referred for prosecution.

“We do take allegations of voter fraud very seriously, and we work with the attorney general’s task force on voter fraud,” Magney said.

While tea partiers—or any trained resident—can serve as poll watchers, they cannot challenge a ballot based on the voter’s failure to respond to a postcard sent by AFP.

Magney said legal reasons that a voter can be challenged include being an on-paper felon, not being a citizen or 18 years of age, not being a resident in Wisconsin for at least 10 days, having been ruled incompetent, or voting previously in that election.

Myths Become Facts in the Conservative Mind

Although widespread voter fraud has never been proven by investigators through the years—state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, former U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic and former Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann have all looked into it—that myth still circulates among Republicans and on the front page of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as a way to push for voter ID and play down Democratic successes in recent elections.

Those myths are treated as truth in the tea partiers’ June 12 discussion.

Perhaps the most pervasive myth is that felons commonly illegally vote in Wisconsin. But the state has developed databases of those who are ineligible to vote—including felons who are still “on paper.” Any ineligible felon who does cast a ballot will be identified and prosecuted. Only a handful of on-paper felon voters have been prosecuted in recent years.

A speaker at the June 12 meeting also alleged that buses with Illinois license plates are full of voters who cast ballots at multiple voting sites in Wisconsin.

But no credible, documented evidence of that exists.

Magney said that Wisconsin has an agreement with Minnesota to compare voter lists to deter residents along the border from voting in both states. He said that the GAB is pursuing similar agreements with Illinois, Iowa and Michigan as well.

Another myth is that voters will cast ballots in multiple municipalities on Election Day.

A voter would need multiple IDs to pull that off. And if it does happen, that voter would be prosecuted.

Another speaker on the tape alleged that he had challenged a voter at the polls because he had overheard that voter saying that his girlfriend had registered him to vote online.

But that’s not how voters register in Wisconsin. A voter may request a registration form online and check his or her status or voting place online. But potential voters must register in person or by mailing a copy of his or her ID and the registration form to their municipal clerk.

Voters can check their status online at vpa.wi.gov and learn how to register at gab.wi.gov.

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