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Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013

GOP Tries to Inject More Politics Into Election Day

Fixing a Problem that Doesn’t Exist

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In a Senate committee last week, state Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) argued that Wisconsin’s elections could be run better if more poll workers were affiliated with political parties.

The Lazich-backed Senate Bill 264 would require a poll inspector whose party affiliation differs from the chief inspector’s party to secure ballot containers together. Senate Bill 265 would require that when a polling place’s function requires two or more people, when possible the chief inspector must assign that job to equal numbers of inspectors from different political parties.

Lazich told the committee that she was inspired to take action by the June 2012 recount in Racine in which then-Sen. Van Wanggaard, a Republican, was unseated by Sen. John Lehman, a Democrat. Lazich said that a number of ballot containers were unsecured or held together by tape.

“This was very alarming and very concerning to people watching this process wondering what went on with those bags that they were in such a condition,” Lazich said.

She said that using partisan poll inspectors would “provide better administration or accountability” and at one point called elections “a political operation.”

Kevin Kennedy, director of the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board (GAB), disagreed with Lazich, testifying that only 25% of county clerks receive nominations for poll workers from the political parties. The clerks stated they prefer to work with election inspectors who are not politically affiliated.

He said the GAB worked with the Racine municipal clerk and improved poll workers’ training after the June 2012 recall election and that a subsequent election there ran smoothly.

A Racine County sheriff’s investigation of complaints at polling sites in Racine during the recall found no evidence of voter fraud or ballot tampering. Instead, the investigation criticized those who filed complaints for their own improper behavior at polling sites on Election Day. 

Manitowoc County Clerk Jamie Aulik, representing the nonpartisan Wisconsin County Clerks Association, urged the committee to keep polling places as impartial as possible. He offered the committee a list of improvements from Wisconsin clerks that could be used to run elections more efficiently.

“Keep polls as least politicized as possible,” he said.

Lazich argued that the package of six bills under discussion would help law enforcement prosecute those committing voter fraud, repeating a common myth believed by Republicans that Wisconsin elections are riddled with illegally cast ballots. After Scott Foval of the People for the American Way countered that there is no evidence of voter fraud in Wisconsin or elsewhere, Lazich said the lack of fraud was due to the lack of evidence that could be used by prosecutors.

“The process is open to fraud,” Lazich said.

The New Berlin Republican also offered a bill that would increase the governor’s choices when selecting members of the GAB, all of whom are retired, nonpartisan judges. Lazich wants to increase the number of nominations sent to the governor. Kennedy said the GAB’s candidate committee often sends nominations to the governor that exceed the number required by state statute.