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Reports of Voter Suppression in Wisconsin--Robocalls Targeting Recall Petition Signers

It's to be expected, of course--an election as important as the recall of Scott Walker in Wisconsin today will have some dirty tricks happening. 

But this one's especially nasty. Tom Barrett's campaign announced that there's been a wave of robocalls targeting the people who signed the petition to recall Walker, telling them they've already voted by signing the petition and should stay home on Tuesday. (Over a million people signed the recall petitions.)

Josh Eidelson reported: 

Last night I talked to a Wisconsin voter who says she received just such a robo-call. Carol Gibbons told me she picked up the phone and heard a male voice saying “thank you for taking this call,” and that “if you signed the recall petition, you did not have to vote because that would be your vote.” After hearing the vote-suppressing message, said Gibbons, “I wanted to take the phone and throw it in the middle of the road.” Gibbons is a retired public employee and a staunch Walker opponent. If he wins the recall, she warned, “He’s going to roll over us like pieces of dirt. He’s going to say, ‘They voted for me twice – I can do whatever I want.’” 

Activists in Wisconsin have been expecting voter suppression efforts, but this is still a jarring tactic--going straight after what one would assume are the safest voters for recall. Kevin Pape of Working America commented to AlterNet that the original recall petitions became public record once they were submitted to the state. "It's good for our side to know who these voters are, to know they're strong supporters, but it's also advantageous for the other side," he said. 

Just to be clear: voters who signed recall petitions still have to vote in the election to be counted. The Barrett campaign did an emergency round of fundraising to call all the petition signers (again, over one million Wisconsinites) to remind them that they have to vote, and voters can report irregularities or suppression efforts at Defend Wisconsin.

(As an aside, this is possibly the kind of thing we can expect a lot more of in the age of unlimited independent campaign expenditures, which are legally required not to coordinate with candidates. Outside groups can spend money on misinformation campaigns and the candidates can keep their hands clean.)

Update: A Walker spokesperson has not denied the existence of the calls, but, as expected, denied anything to do with them. 

As noted in the GOP primaries in Wisconsin, the state's "do-not-call" list exempts "electioneering" calls, so voters can continue to be inundated with robocalls.

By Sarah Jaffe | Sourced from AlterNet



More from Brad Blog:

By Brad Friedman on 6/5/2012 1:00pm  

After well over a year of political, if not all out civil war in Wisconsin in the wake of the state's Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the majority-GOP legislature unilaterally stripping many of the state's citizens of their rights to collectively bargain, Walker's fate is finally up for grabs today, along with that of his Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and the political balance of the state Senate via the seats of four Republican state Senators.

A Democratic win in just one of those Senate seats will return the majority in that body to the Democrats, making remarkably extreme actions like those we've seen over the past two years in the Badger State much more difficult to accomplish no matter who wins today's gubernatorial race.

But we'll see what happens today, tonight and, under several foreboding scenarios, over the next several weeks and/or months as the citizens of the state exercise some direct and wonderful democracy today at the ballot box --- or, at least, at the computerized tabulators.

Aside from expectedly heavy turnout being reported across the state (and particularly in Milwaukee), and races that are thought to be exceedingly tight, here are a few morning news items out of Wisconsin which may (or may not) turn out to have much more relevance in the near future, depending on how things go in the next several hours...


Yesterday, I detailed several steps that citizens of all parties in Wisconsin (and even some of you outside of the state), can take to help protect the integrity of today's election results. Given that WI uses mostly paper ballots which are counted in secret by oft-failed, easily-manipulated computer optical-scan systems, and that they do not bother to verify computer tabulations in any way before announcing those results to the public, there is only so much that can be done. But some of my recommended steps may prove to be quite useful later, and all of them are pretty easy. See my report from last night for those easy steps, and please continue to share them broadly!


Democrats are alleging that dirty tricks are under way, with robocalls instructing voters that if they signed the recall petition, their work is done and there is no need to vote today. The call reportedly says: "thank you for taking this call ... if you signed the recall petition, you did not have to vote because that would be your vote." That, of course, is completely untrue.

A different robocall reportedly uses the old "Election day is Wednesday" ruse, though, unlike the other call, that one seems unlikely to fool many folks. Both calls, at this hour, are still only alleged, since audio has yet to surface from either, but both sound feasible.

Last week, another dirty trick was confirmed when supporters of Walker's opponent Milwaukee Gov. Tom Barrett, were said to have received Spam Text Messages charging Barrett to be a "union puppet" and supplying a phone number along with it. The number, however, went to Barrett's campaign headquarters. A flood of complaints to that number then effectively shut down the Democrats' phone banking efforts for a time.

Walker's campaign claims they have nothing to do with any of the dirty tricks. Nothing similar has been reported to my knowledge as being carried out by the Democrats. The state Republican Party has so far refused to comment on the reported robocalls today, and says they will not do so until actual audio from the calls surface.


With the race reportedly as close as it is, at least according to pre-election polls, student voters could make a big difference in today's results as they are expected to heavily support the Democrats. Many students, however, may be in for an ugly surprise when they attempt to vote today.

Last year, the Republican state Legislature adopted a number of provisions that make it much more difficult (and in some cases impossible) for legal voters to exercise their legal right to vote.

One such provision was a draconian polling place Photo ID restriction which was, thankfully, blocked by two different judges in two different cases (see here and here). Both found the GOP restriction on voting was in explicit violation of the state Constitution's guaranteed right to vote. Both state appellate courts and the state Supreme Court refused to overturn the judges' rulings, despite a strong push from the Republican state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.

But a change in the period of time that a citizen must live in one location in order to vote there was not struck down, and could have a serious impact today, particularly if the race is as close as predicted. The provision says a voter must live in an area for 28 days, rather than 10, before being able to register to vote there (or to update their registrations to the new location.) Think Progress explains:

Though seemingly innocuous, the problem is that the five largest colleges in Wisconsin — University of Wisconsin-Madison (40,000 students), University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (27,500 students), Marquette University (11,500 students), University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (11,500 students), and University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (11,000 students) — all had their graduations either the weekend of May 12 or the weekend of May 19, 24 days and 17 days ago, respectively.

Therefore, any student at these schools who registered to vote at school but is now home for the summer will not be permitted to update their registration at their parents’ house because they will have been home for less than 28 days. Under the old law, a student not on campus for the summer would have been permitted to update her registration at the polls and vote because she will have been home (or elsewhere off-campus) for more than 10 days.

As a result, thousands of Wisconsin students will likely be barred from taking part in today’s recall vote.

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin today said that they are "hearing many reports from students whose right to vote is being questioned at the polls because they have moved in the past 28 days."

The LWV goes on to note that "If you voted in the May 8 primary for the recall election, you must vote in the same polling place for today's election. If you did not vote on May 8, you may declare either your college address or your home/summer address as your residence, and you may register at the polls today."

They also recommend folks call the Election Protection hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE to report any problems at the polling place.

Also remember, same-day registration and voting is still legal in the state of Wisconsin.


As we detailed just before the recall primary, reports of Scott Walker's former Republican Assembly Caucus colleague turned oft-failed and controversial Republican County Clerk of Waukesha (the largest Republican county in the state, crucial to a Walker victory today) stepping aside for the recall elections, at the demand of the County's Republican Board of Executives, were apparently unfounded --- at least according to Nickolaus who suddenly sang a different tune just before the primaries.

While "A group of Waukesha County residents that claim to be a mix of Democrats, Republicans and Independents emailed County Executive Dan Vrakas Monday afternoon requesting that County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus be banned from Tuesday's election process," according to Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel, that is unlikely to happen.

The group is seeking a restraining order to keep her out of County election headquarters today. They are unlikely to get it, as Nickolaus is an elected official who has been charged with no crimes --- just massive incompetence by both Republicans and Democrats, along with flipping the results of last year's state Supreme Court race when she is said to have "discovered" some 14,000 votes that ended up flipping the race from the Independent candidate to her old boss, the incumbent Republican Justice David Prosser.

Washington Post's Greg Sargent reports today that he's been told by County Executives that Nickolaus "will not be involved in the vote counting this evening." But that was the same claim made during the recall primary as well, before Nickolaus announced that she had no intention of stepping aside.

Even the Journal Sentinel at this hour has no idea "Who's running the election in Waukesha County?" as Nickolaus has been observed passing out election supplies to municipal clerks and fielding questions from officials (while refusing to answer questions from the media.)

In either case, even if she steps aside, her own hand-picked and hand-trained deputy Kelly Yaeger will be in charge, which brings little comfort to folks like Election Integrity expert John Washburn of Wisconsin Fair Elections. Washburn --- a Republican who sometime ago had, himself, sat in for Nickolaus at a County Executive meeting, though has since lost all faith in her --- told me that he has no more confidence in Yaeger than he has in Nickolaus to properly carry out election administration and vote tabulation duties in Waukesha.


In opposition to the usual narrative, it seems to be Democrats this time around who are reportedly floating the possibility of a "recount" in the event of a very close election.

We put the word "recount" in quotes, given the fact that almost all ballots cast in the state of WI are not actually counted in the first place. Rather, they are secretly tallied inside optical-scan computers which either tally the votes correctly or not. Tonight there will be no way to know when results announced. The state has no mandated procedures for verifying the accuracy of the computers which, as we reported yesterday, have a tendency to declare losing candidates as "winners", drop thousands of votes without notice, and can otherwise be easily gamed to report anything a malicious hacker or insider might wish them to report.

Unfortunately, "recounts" in the state of Wisconsin, as we learned last year during the statewide Supreme Court "recount" between Prosser and his challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg are largely a complete joke. "Recount theater" if you will.

In that case, a two-month long statewide hand-count ensued, during which "widespread irregularities" were discovered, particularly in Nickolaus' Waukesha, where ballot bags had been discovered ripped open prior to the counting, security seals were found missing or changed, and some computer results tapes were revealed as having dates indicating they'd been printed days prior to the election.

Despite all of those breath-taking revelations, the state's top election agency, the Government Accountability Board (G.A.B.), certified the "recount" tallies without bothering to even read, much less investigate, the thousands of anomalies and exhibits documented during the "recount" process which Kloppenberg would ultimately describe as revealing a "cascade of irregularities" in a process that "should be a wake-up call" to voters of the Badger State.

Despite that wake-up call, few, if any procedures have been changed in the state since last year, so we will hope against hope that more "recount theater" will not be needed this year, no matter who is announced by the computers tonight to be the "winner" of these historic recalls.

To help, towards that end, allow me to once again recommend my article from last night detailing a few easy steps that voters in Wisconsin (and even observers outside the state) can do --- either in Wisconsin or outside of it --- to help make either malfunction or malfeasance just a little bit more difficult to affect today's election results.

Also remember to call both 866-VOTE-WIS and 866-OUR-VOTE to report any problems as they are seen today. The G.A.B. can be emailed at: with any problem reports.

The polls close at 8pm CT tonight in Wisconsin, and completely unverified computer results are likely to be reported in short order thereafter, either accurately or inaccurately.

* * *

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