Poll watchers to scrutinize, be scrutinized during election

2012-11-04T07:00:00Z 2012-11-04T09:40:07Z Poll watchers to scrutinize, be scrutinized during electionWisconsin State Journal La Crosse Tribune
November 04, 2012 7:00 am  • 

MADISON — Wisconsin could see a record number of votes cast in Tuesday’s high-stakes election — and have more citizen scrutiny of the balloting than ever before.

Tea Party groups, the two presidential campaigns and several other organizations claim to have trained thousands of lawyers and ordinary citizens to spend the day at polling places looking for irregularities — and keeping an eye on each other.

Stoking interest is the state’s crucial role in the seesaw presidential and U.S Senate elections this year, on top of white-hot passions that have built during a series of Wisconsin recalls.

To prevent a repeat of chaotic conditions caused by observers in 2004 and complaints about disruptive poll-watchers in the June recall election, the state’s election agency has reaffirmed restrictions on observers, ramped up training for election workers and for the first time trained local police on their duty to arrest troublemakers.

“Some of the observers felt they needed to try to intimidate our workers or the voters, and that just won’t be tolerated this time,” said Diane Hermann-Brown, past president and current communications chairwoman for the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association. “Badgering isn’t going to be an option. There won’t be any third or fourth chances. You’re going to deal with it, or you are out.”

Conservatives have complained the Government Accountability Board has placed too many restrictions on where observers can stand, and who they can question, but election agency director Kevin Kennedy said a proper balance has been struck between the rights of observers, the privacy of voters and the need to keep lines moving when turnout is heavy.

“We can’t control the passion, and we can’t control people’s perceptions,” Kennedy said. “The law is clear — law enforcement should remove disruptive persons from voting places.”

Only a few observers cause problems, Kennedy said, while others want to offer help to voters but end up slowing down the lines and possibly giving out incorrect information.

“There’s this paranoia on both sides and we’re kind of caught in the crossfire,” Kennedy said.

Observers generally need to stay 6 feet away from poll workers and they are allowed to raise questions only with supervisors, Kennedy said.

“We’ve really spent a lot of time training poll workers to do their jobs properly so that they can address the increased level of scrutiny that was coming,” Kennedy said.

Several groups have challenged the agency, but its board of retired judges reasserted the rules a few weeks ago.

Training observers

Kenosha area land developer Dan Hunt said he has trained about 125 observers this year. He works closely with the Tea Party group American Majority Action and was a leader in the unsuccessful 2011 recall drive against State Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Pleasant Prairie.

“The GAB has become more restrictive, and it’s interesting that they’ve done this as we’ve become more of a presence,” he said. “Why we are such a threat, I have no idea.”

Hunt said he wants only to ensure that the process works properly, and that he’s seen things that suggest breakdowns in security — such as ballots left temporarily unsecured — but no proof of fraud.

Observers for the major parties often check off names of voters as they go through the polls, so that the campaigns can make reminder calls to those who haven’t voted. But it’s other activities that are more likely to cause problems.

Typically, Republican and Tea Party groups prime their volunteers to look for signs of fraudulent voting, while Democrats and a few watchdog organizations guard against people wrongly being denied a ballot, said UW-Madison political science professor Barry Burden.

In the past, most observers in Madison have monitored student and low-income wards, but city clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl said she expects the watchers to be present at every city ward this year.

Witzel-Behl is suggesting that poll workers tape off an area where observers must stay to keep them out of the way. Sometimes the worst problems have taken place after the voting is over and the observers try to interfere with counting write-in ballots, reconciling poll books or completing a log of incidents, Witzel-Behl said.

State election officials have contracted with Burden and a few other professors to examine incident logs compiled after each election by polling place supervisors.

The work isn’t done, but an initial review indicates few if any problems with voter fraud or voter access — even though rumors of those things continue to spread, Burden said.

“The parties want to get their voters activated,” Burden said. “A prime way to do that is to scare them, to use a threat.”

Many will watch

The Texas-based Tea Party group True The Vote claims that “thousands” of Wisconsin observers have undergone online training this year. The Obama campaign in the state said it had 1,000, mostly lawyers, ready to go. The Romney campaign declined to say how many watchers it will deploy. Wisconsin Election Protection Coalition, which is working with the League of Women Voters and the charitable arms of several unions, said it would field about 500 observers. There are other groups.

Training of observers became an issue last week, with the Obama campaign criticizing portions of Romney training manuals that the GAB said included incomplete and incorrect information. Ben Sparks, a Romney spokesman in Wisconsin said the campaign stood by the manuals, but wouldn’t provide a copy and wouldn’t address questions about why volunteers are advised to list their organizational affiliation as “concerned citizens” when they signed in at the polls.

Ann Jacobs, a coordinator for Election Protection, said the move allows Republicans to avoid being removed if a polling place is overcrowded and equal numbers from each major party are made to leave. Members of Election Protection wear T-shirts with the group’s name and phone number.

Copyright 2015 La Crosse Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(10) Comments

  1. Richy
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    Richy - November 05, 2012 10:14 am
    Oh and Obama wants to take more from the Rich so Maybe he should take a Bunch of Money from all the Rich Donators that built Mayo Clinic and Franciscan Health then you Liberals will have to go to Gunderson Clinic and pay for your health care! Anyone can walk into Mayo and I would like to see you try that at Gunderson Clinic! The reason you can do it at Mayo is because of Rich People Giving, so bite the hand that Heals you and vote Obama!
  2. Richy
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    Richy - November 05, 2012 10:02 am
    They must have read what I posted and thought Wow that is true he hung with Outlaws! LOL
  3. Richy
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    Richy - November 05, 2012 10:00 am
    Typo EARS and I heard it with my own EARS Jobaba The largest paper in Wisconsin Just Endorsed Romney and I heard it with my own Words! LOL.
  4. Richy
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    Richy - November 05, 2012 9:58 am
    LOL Liberal Voters! The Wisconsin State Journal Out of Madison Just Endorsed Romney! Along with 30 other Newspaper that flipped from Obama to Romney
  5. RINO Cowboy
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    RINO Cowboy - November 05, 2012 7:04 am
    Self appointed do-gooder vigilantes in a misguided attempt to correct a non-problem.
  6. Jobaba
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    Jobaba - November 05, 2012 6:32 am
    Richy - "which I heard him say with my own words! " Perhaps that is why you believe in fairy tales...next election use your ears.

    Funny how low our voting rates are. And the Rebumplicans want to keep it that way. Instead of being stand-up Americans and encouraging voters, the more interest shown, the more interference they put out. Tea baggers are poor citizens and do not understand America.

    Go vote!
  7. bb
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    bb - November 05, 2012 6:02 am
    Richy, get ready for 4 more years then. You can always move to one of the Theocracies you seem to want.
  8. Napoleon
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    Napoleon - November 05, 2012 1:29 am
    GOP voter suppression is back!

    "“True the Vote,” the Texas-based Tea Party inspired group, has launched an aggressive national effort to root out vote fraud, providing training videos and computer software (that contain data on property records and death indexes) to help volunteers identify ineligible voters who show up at the polls on Tuesday."

    "But voting rights groups say “True the Vote” and its affiliates threaten to intimidate legitimate voters -- a prospect they aim to combat with their own battalions of citizen poll watchers on Tuesday."

    "... a civil rights group, says her organization has lined up thousands of lawyers and poll watchers in 20 key states to look for “suspicious activity” by True the Vote and its affiliates. “We will also be watching the poll watchers making sure they aren’t acting as bullies,” she says."

  9. Richy
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    Richy - November 04, 2012 8:25 pm
    11 Papers have switched endorsements to Mitt Romney! The Daily News and other Democratic News Organizations have switched to Mitt Romney Siting that Obama's Pledge for pragmatism and bipartisanship have gone Unfulfilled!

    The New York Daily News

    Long Island Newsday

    Houston Chronicle

    Fort Worth Star-Telegram

    Orlando Sentinel

    Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

    Nashville Tennessean

    Des Moines Register

    Illinois Daily Herald

    Los Angeles Daily News

    Los Angeles Press-Telegram
  10. Richy
    Report Abuse
    Richy - November 04, 2012 8:06 pm
    All I can say is if you for vote Obama you get what you deserve in the next 4 years. Look at Obamas founding fathers if any of you even know them? Frank Marshall Davis. The Communist party member. Bill Ayers, He was responsible for numerous government bombings.
    Edward Said.Plo Member. Roberto Unger who Obama took several classes from the Leftist Revolutionary. Jeremiah Wright his Radical Pastor Third world liberation theology Not God bless America. God D am America which I heard him say with my own words! You all need to research his past and think of his World agenda and deep down his core beliefs. You are fools for giving him a second term and when it all comes crashing down don't blame anyone but yourselves. Fools! The Dreams From my Father Not of My Father. He will enrich the colonized countries and Break America in his second term! Oh and remember his brother is still in the slums of Nairobi. He is Anti Colonial, He will do nothing to stop Iran from getting Nuclear weapons
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