Tag Archives: GAB

Voter ID education needed for fair elections

State officials have a chance to boost voter participation and make voting smoother for all by committing a modest amount of funding for voter education.

The League of Women Voters urged the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board last week to request funding to promote its voter ID education campaign, and we are delighted they voted to do so. A vigorous state voter education campaign is sorely needed as we prepare for Nov. 8 when a million more voters are expected to turn out.

People who do not have an acceptable photo ID on Election Day may cast a provisional ballot, which is counted only if the voter provides the ID to election officials by end of the week.

According to preliminary figures 375 provisional ballots were issued on April 5, of which 108 were counted. We have no idea how many people did not even try to vote under the new ID requirements.

We do know that a recent transplant from Minnesota had all the documentation he needed to register at his Eau Claire polling place, but couldn’t get a regular ballot because he did not have an acceptable photo ID for voting. He chose not to cast a provisional ballot because he knew he could not get to the DMV by 4 p.m. on that Friday.

In Deforest, a disabled Vietnam veteran in a wheelchair had proof of residence and an expired Wisconsin driver’s license, allowing him to register to vote. Then he was denied a regular ballot because his driver’s license expired shortly before the Nov. 4, 2014 cut-off. The clerk did all she could to assist him to no avail. He accepted a provisional ballot but said he was sure he could not arrange transportation, first to the DMV and then to his clerk’s office by the end of the week.

A community leader in Madison who is well informed and active in civic affairs moved some time ago and updated her address in the DMV database. She had already registered and voted at her new polling place, but on the day of the February primary election she remembered that her new address was not on driver’s license. She actually could have voted but didn’t even try because she thought her ID needed that current address.

These citizens were properly registered, but they were tripped up by not knowing the details of a confusing new law.

Some state officials have said that the League is out of order in calling for voter education after having challenged the photo ID law in court. We are proud to have been one of the organizations that held off implementation of the law for three years. Because of the injunctions no Wisconsin citizen was disenfranchised by the law through 11 elections, nor were there any allegations of voter impersonation.

When the voter ID law went into effect the League added a full-time position, increasing our staff by 50 percent. And we have hundreds of volunteers in our 18 local Leagues working to register and assist voters in complying with a law we opposed. Indeed, voter education has been the League’s mission for almost 100 years.

Now it is time for the proponents of voter ID to do their part and back up their claim that they would never want to prevent any eligible citizen from voting. One way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to fund a statewide voter education campaign. Surely NOT to do so reveals their claim to be just more hollow rhetoric.

Andrea Kaminski is executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for informed and active participation in government. The League welcomes women and men across the state as members. With 18 local Leagues in Wisconsin and 800 affiliates across the county, the League is one of the nation’s most trusted grassroots organizations. Follow @LWV_WI on Twitter.  

Common Cause calls for public action to stop Republicans’ latest voter-suppression bill

On Feb. 9, the Wisconsin Senate passed, along partisan lines, hyper-partisan legislation — Senate Bill 295 — which eliminates the ability of organizations like the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, Voces de la Frontera and even city and municipal clerks to be able to conduct effective voter registration drives. The measure also stipulates that mailed absentee ballots not received by Election Day will not be counted. Currently, absentee ballots that have a postmark on Election Day are counted. So that means thousands of absentee ballots will be disqualified! 

While SB 295 does provide for some online voter registration — a positive thing — the obvious hyper-partisan voter suppression provisions (added in secret and without a public hearing) render this legislation utterly unsupportable. Both state Senator Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg), the primary author of this abomination, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau,) were both incapable of being able to defend the legislation during the floor debate last week and simply called for partisan votes to defeat Democratic amendments that would have improved the bill. A number of Democratic state senators were outstanding in their determined assault on this measure: Julie Lassa of Stevens Point, Tim Carpenter of Milwaukee, Mark Miller of Monona, Jon Erpenbach of Middleton, Fred Risser of Madison, Chris Larson of Milwaukee, Janet Bewley of Ashland and Dave Hansen of Green Bay. 

The Assembly is scheduled to vote on Senate Bill 295 tomorrow, Tuesday — Feb. 16 — and it is vitally important that you contact your State Representatives and inform them of your opposition to this legislation in its current form. One critical reason to do so is to build the public record in opposition to this and other anti-democratic legislation, as was done last fall when the GOP destroyed the non-partisan Government Accountability Board and transformed Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws into among the very weakest and most susceptible to corruption in the nation. Real citizens do not support this stuff — special interest-controlled politicians do. If you do not know who your state representative is, go here.

To find out more about this measure and why CC/WI does not support it — and why you need to oppose it, too, go here, here, here, here and here.  

Wisconsin elections board pushes voter ID information

Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board is pushing to inform people about new voter photo ID requirements with less than two weeks left before the spring primary.

The board held a news conference on Feb. 1 to re-launch its “Bring It to the Ballot” campaign, which it started in 2011 when the law passed.

The photo ID requirement was in effect for the first time during the 2012 spring primary election, but a court soon halted its implementation due to ongoing legal challenges. It will take full effect this year, starting with the Feb. 16 primary.

Republicans introduced the voter ID requirements as part of an effort to discourage voting among demagraphic groups that tradionally vote Democratic. The GOP has also scaled back on popular early voting programs and reduced the number of polling sites.

Government Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy says the board spent about $700,000 in 2011 and 2012 to develop videos, brochures and radio ads.

This year, however, legislators didn’t provide funding for the campaign, because the law was on hold.

Republicans have voted to get rid of the accountability board because it investigates political corruption.

GOP erases clean gov’t in rare Friday session

Following a brutal all-night debate on Fri., Nov. 6, the Legislature’s Republican majority succeeded in moving forward a pair of bills that will pour more dark money than ever into state elections and disembowel the Government Accountability Board, which oversaw state elections.

The bills are part of a sweeping package of new GOP laws that Democrats say will erase clean government reforms enacted a century ago and usher in a return to the political corruption that dominated U.S. government in the early 20th century. Despite a lack of urgency or public demand, the package of bills has been on a fast track for several weeks.

“At a time when our state has the fastest shrinking middle class in the nation; where the economic recovery still hasn’t reached our neighbors who need it most, and where our education has been severely underfunded at every level, the priority of Wisconsin leaders should be on tackling these problems head-on; Unfortunately, instead of fixing the job crisis in our state that is truly worthy of an extraordinary session, the Republicans in power chose to force through bills that shred the fabric of Wisconsin’s nationally recognized model of good, clean government,” said Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee.

The Assembly passed the two Republican-authored bills last month but the proposals have followed a tortuous path in the Senate. Twice over the last two weeks Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald canceled floor votes on the proposals because he lacked the votes to pass them. His caucus spent days in closed-door meetings before Fitzgerald brokered a deal and scheduled a rare Friday floor session.

The Senate ultimately convened around 7:30 p.m. Friday. The body finally voted on the campaign finance bill around midnight, passing it 17–15 with Republican Sen. Rob Cowles of Green Bay joining the chamber’s 14 Democrats in voting against the bill. Debate then began on the elections board bill; it went on for two-and-a-half hours before the body passed the measure 18–14, with all 18 Republicans voting in favor.

Democrats criticized Republicans for continuing their strategy of rushing through controversial and unpopular legislation when no one is watching. In June, the GOP inserted a measure to repeal the state’s open records law into a budget amendment without prior announcement, setting off a national backlash.

“You’re doing it on a Friday when you knew most media wouldn’t be around,” Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, said during debate on the campaign finance bill. “It’s happening in the dark of night. Everybody looks half-tired and beat and we’re doing legislation that will ultimately be the death of clean, open, fair government in Wisconsin.”

State Sen. Mark Miller, D-16th Senate District, wrote a mock obituary for the death of the GAB:

“The Government Accountability Board (GAB), age 8, died on November 7, 2015, after a long battle with Republican lawmakers and special interest lobbyists,” Miller wrote. “The Government Accountability Board was born Feb. 2, 2007 to a proud group of legislators focused on a fair and ethical elections process. Wisconsinites were deserving of the impartial, nonpartisan oversight of their elections and will mourn the loss of the GAB.

“The GAB in was created upon the death of the Wisconsin Elections and Ethics Boards, ineffective partisan boards, desperately in need of reform. The Government Accountability Board is now survived by the Elections and Ethics Commissions, a new similarly ineffective, gridlocked, partisan board, reminiscent of the GAB’s predecessor.

“The Government Accountability Board reached national notoriety and accomplished a great deal in its lifetime. The GAB was at the helm of unprecedented recalls and navigated elections in a smooth and effective manner during the constantly changing laws governing it. It will be dearly missed by many.

“In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Wisconsin Club for Growth (a Koch-backed group).”

Open, clean government is good for everyone in Wisconsin

Differences of opinion are inevitable in government. Disagreements between Democrats and Republicans over public investments, funding for schools or the fairness of our tax code are common.

Despite these differences, everyone can agree that an open, transparent and accessible government is essential to our democracy.

Throughout Wisconsin’s history, both Democrats and Republicans have supported laws to protect citizen access, prevent political corruption and maintain high ethical standards.

Unfortunately, this historical bipartisan agreement is nearing an end. Republicans who control the state Legislature in Madison are pushing a package of bills that severely limit the ability of Wisconsin citizens to have their voices heard and hold elected officials accountable.

These bills follow the recent attempt by Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans to gut Wisconsin’s open record laws. These misguided efforts to limit disclosure of public documents were abandoned only after scores of newspapers, media outlets and citizens responded with overwhelming opposition.

Now, less than three months after the failed attempt to restrict open record access, Republicans are using an end-around tactic to rewrite long-standing campaign finance, ethics and anti-corruption laws.

Gov. Walker privately signed the first of these bills, Senate Bill 43, into law on Oct. 23. This law makes it more difficult to prosecute political corruption by exempting politicians from Wisconsin’s John Doe criminal investigation laws.

A second bill completely rewrites Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws allowing corporations to contribute directly to political parties and eliminating important disclosure requirements. The sweeping changes in this bill go beyond the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision and will result in even more TV ads, robocalls and special interest attack mailers during campaign season.

Finally, a third Republican proposal dismantles the non-partisan Government Accountability Board, which is tasked with overseeing state elections and ethics laws. The board would be replaced with political appointees using a flawed model that encourages partisan bickering and gridlock rather than actual oversight.

Taken together, these bills make sweeping changes to many long-standing good government protections. This trio of bills is so troubling that one prominent government watchdog group recently called it “a massive, coordinated blitzkrieg on democracy and transparency.”

At a time when students, families and seniors across Wisconsin continue to face serious challenges, we should be focused on strengthening our state’s economy and improving financial security.

These misguided attacks on Wisconsin’s long-standing, bipartisan tradition of open and clean government are a threat to our democratic institutions and will only serve to further polarize Wisconsin’s political environment.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling represents the 32nd Senate District, which incudes La Crosse, Vernon, Crawford and part of Monroe Counties.

Scott Walker calls for dismantling independent agency that oversees elections

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has called for the dismantling of an independent state agency that oversees elections. The agency authorized an investigation into his 2012 recall campaign.

Walker, who launched his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination last week, told reporters following a bill signing ceremony in Oshkosh that he wanted to scrap the Government Accountability Board and replace it with “something completely new that is truly accountable to the people of the state of Wisconsin.”

Walker also called for an investigation into the board’s activities. He did not say who should lead the investigation.

Walker’s comments come just four days after the state Supreme Court halted a board-approved investigation into whether conservative groups illegally coordinated with Walker’s 2012 recall campaign, saying the groups broke no laws.

Republican state lawmakers have been talking for months about reshaping the board, and the Supreme Court’s ruling has only bolstered the calls for change.

The board, which replaced the partisan Ethics and Elections boards in 2008, is comprised of six former judges appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. It oversees elections as well as campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws.

Walker said in December that he was open to changing the board, but didn’t then call for its complete replacement.

“I’m willing to work with the members of the Legislature in both political parties to make sure that we have a fair and accountable entity that manages elections and ethics in the state of Wisconsin,” Walker said.

Democratic supporters of the board have said Republicans want to replace it with a partisan lap dog. Walker didn’t say whether he wants to replace the non-partisan judges on the board with partisan appointees.

“You want something that can stand the test of time, so it’s got to be fair,” Walker said. “It’s got to be accountable, it’s got to be transparent.”

The board has drawn criticism of its handling of recall elections in 2011 and 2012 that targeted both Republicans and Democrats, the secret John Doe investigation that the Supreme Court ended last week, as well as designs of ballots in the 2014 election.

Republicans have also pointed to an audit released this year that details problems with the operation of the board, but did not recommend dismantling it or moving toward a partisan structure.

No specific proposal for changing the board has been made public, but Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has called for its director Kevin Kennedy to be replaced.

Kennedy, who previously served as head of the elections board that preceded the GAB, has defended the board’s makeup and scope of duties. He says one of its biggest benefits is that it serves as a one-stop-shop for questions about elections, ethics and campaign finance laws that often overlap.

A spokesman for the board did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

League of Women Voters recommends Wisconsin lawmakers to make it less difficult to register

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, in a report released on Jan. 6, recommends the state Legislature make voter registration less difficult and allocate increased funding for the training of local election officials. 

The league, working with organizations such as the Wisconsin Election Protection coalition, recruited, trained and placed 250 volunteer election observers to monitor 493 polling places in cities, towns and villages across the state in the November 2014 midterm elections.

The league’s report says the observers noted significant improvements in election administration and polling place management since the league began monitoring elections in 2010. The league attributes the improvements to: enhanced training of local officials by the state Government Accountability Board.

“With numerous changes in election law in the past few years, and likely more in the near future, it is critically important to keep local officials trained and current on election administration,” stated Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin. 

However, the observers reported that there were long lines of people waiting to register at many polling places and some sites had significant problems as a result. In addition, there were some site-specific problems which could be addressed with improved training of local election officials. 

“The most prevalent problem our observers encountered was long lines for voter registration. We believe that is a direct result of restrictive new laws which have made it more difficult to register early and to establish proof of residence,” Kaminski said. 

Some of the people who were not able to register to vote on Election Day because they lacked acceptable documentation included several sisters at the St. Rose Convent in La Crosse, students in many college towns, a young tribal member whose driver’s license had an old address and who did not have other documentation, women whose documents were in their husbands’ names, and a new Catholic priest who had recently moved in- state.

In some cases, a league observer worked with election officials to clarify what types of documentation are acceptable, as well as the fact that proof-of-residence documents may be displayed electronically on a cell phone or pad. 

“Election Day registration is a cost-effective tool that has served Wisconsin voters of all political stripes with few problems for 38 years. Restrictive new laws have resulted in more pressure on Election Day registration. This is a manufactured problem. What we need to do is to make it easier for people to register, reward them for doing so early and maintain Election Day Registration as a safeguard to encourage voting,” Kaminski said.

On the Web…

Find the report at http://www.lwvwi.org/Portals/0/NewsEvents/PDFS/2014%20election%20observer%20report.pdf.

Wisconsin officials scramble to implement voter ID law

Wisconsin election officials were scrambling on Sept. 15 to deal with a federal appeals court’s ruling reinstating the requirement that voters show photo identification when casting ballots.

The law had been on hold, after being in effect only for the low-turnout February 2012 primary, following a series of court orders blocking it. But a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, just hours after hearing oral arguments, said late on Sept. 12 that the state could proceed with implementing the law while it weighs the merits of the case.

The decision came after a federal judge’ ruling in April struck down the law as an unconstitutional burden on poor and minority voters who may lack the required identification.

The biggest immediate issue is what to do about more than 11,800 absentee ballots that have already been requested, and perhaps returned, without the voter showing the required identification, Government Accountability Board spokesman Reid Magney said Monday.

The law requires people to submit photocopies of their IDs when requesting absentee ballots by mail, something that those who made their requests before Friday’s ruling didn’t have to do.

In Milwaukee, the state’s largest city, about 8,000 absentee ballots were requested but have not yet been mailed to voters, said Neil Albrecht, who’s in charge of elections there. Under the law, they have to be sent by Thursday, he said.

“We’re all in a holding pattern right now waiting for clarification,” Albrecht said.

The story is much the same in Green Bay, where about 1,500 requested absentee ballots are sitting in the mailroom, said city clerk Kris Teske.

Magney said elections officials are discussing what steps to take and will release more information soon. One issue being discussed is what clerks need to do to communicate with voters with absentee ballots, Magney said.

The Government Accountability Board told clerks on Sept. 12 not to mail out any more absentee forms until it gets instructions about what forms to send so voters comply with the law.

The board has already posted information on its website about the law, including the types of IDs that will be acceptable at the polls on Nov. 4. Military and permanent overseas voters are exempt from the requirement.

A total of 34 states have passed conservative laws requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls and 32 of those were in force as of Sept. 12 according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Wisconsin would be among nine states with the strictest photo ID laws, the group said.

The federal appeals court ruling, less than two months before the election, sent shockwaves through the state, with Democrats decrying that it will lead to disenfranchising of voters and Republicans saying it would help ensure the system’s integrity.

It’s become an issue in the tight governor’s race. Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who signed the requirement into law, is being challenged by Democrat Mary Burke, an opponent of voter ID.

While Walker praised the ruling, Burke’s team launched fundraising pleas warning that Republicans would use it to tamp down the vote.

“Scott Walker knows that we can win, and he believes that efforts to keep voters from getting to the polls is a win for Republicans,” Burke spokesman Joe Zepecki said in a fundraising email late Friday.

Zepecki said that Burke, if elected governor, would work to repeal the photo ID requirement and expand early voting hours after Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature limited them.

Walker has said the ruling gives voters confidence in the electoral system and makes it harder to cheat, although repeated studies show that cheating by voters has not been a problem in Wisconsin elections.



Ballot box bullies | Citizens fight back to protect their right to vote

A third of voters may go to sleep on the eve of the general election with Hitchcockian visions of hanging chads and boxes of uncounted ballots in their heads.

Two swing state polls, one conducted in late September and another in early October, found 33 percent of voters seriously concerned about electoral shenanigans – not on the part of people ineligible to vote but on the part of those steering campaigns, supplying voting machines, issuing ballots and tallying votes.

But there’s a counter to the compromised confidence: A growing number of citizens are taking an interest in safeguarding voting rights at the polls, promoting transparency in the process and protecting the integrity of the electoral system. Surveys find more people volunteering to serve as election observers, increased interest in the process and a spike in the number of voting rights marches this year, especially in the South.

“Voting must be free, fair and accessible to all, and voters should know their rights,” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, a national organization at the forefront of fighting for fair and free elections. “It is important to maintain the integrity of our election system, and that means that candidates, parties and political activists should be focused on persuading and turning out voters, not bullying them or trying to manipulate the law to freeze them out of our democracy.”


With days left to go before Nov. 6, concerns about voter suppression, intimidation and disenfranchisement existed around the country, but especially in the swing states. 

Intimidating billboards declaring “Voter Fraud Is A Felony!” went up in low-income and minority communities in Milwaukee. 

Those billboards and others like them in Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, were funded by Wisconsin venture capitalist Stephen Einhorn and his wife Nancy. The couple has given over $50,000 to Gov. Scott Walker since 2005, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Following protests from community groups condemning them as voter-suppression efforts, Clear Channel Outdoor company took them down. The company also announced it would work with the Milwaukee Election Commission to post digital bulletins, digital posters and transit shelter totems encouraging voters by saying, “Skip the Election Day line – vote early.”

Voters in some Democratic areas in Wisconsin received mailers from the Republican Party with incorrect information about their polling places or the wrong election date.

Controversy also arose over the appearance in Wisconsin of GOP strategist Nathan Sproul’s Issue Advocacy Partners firm. Another Sproul firm is connected to a voter fraud scandal in Florida, as well as an ongoing criminal case against a paid voter registration supervisor accused of destroying forms in Virginia.

In 28 Florida counties in October, voters received bogus letters informing them they might be ineligible to vote, prompting an FBI probe. And in Palm Beach County, some 27,000 absentee ballots couldn’t be digitally scanned because of a design flaw. So election workers were duplicating the markings on bad ballots on new ballots.

This was in addition to the yearlong campaign by Republican Gov. Rick Scott to remove people from registered voter lists, an effort to reduce early voting opportunities, new rules that pushed citizens groups out of registration drives and a scandal over fraudulent voter registration forms in 10 counties that involved a contractor hired by the GOP.

In Ohio – in minority neighborhoods in Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland – a right-wing family foundation erected billboards intended to scare off voters with the warning, “Voter Fraud Is A Felony!” Clear Channel, co-owned by the private equity firm co-founded by Mitt Romney, agreed to remove the ads, but civic leaders said some harm was done.

Meanwhile, liberal bloggers were raising questions about whether ballots in at least one county in Ohio would be accurately counted because investors in Hart InterCivic, the company supplying voting machines, have ties to Bain Capital and Tagg Romney.

All this was in addition to a failed attempt to reduce early voting opportunities in a state where thousands of people were left waiting in lines hours after the polls closed in 2004 and where officials this fall sent out notices to some voters with an incorrect election date.

Elsewhere, confusion over voter identification policies continued after a spate of new voter ID laws, driven by another right-wing group, led to showdowns between state governments and the U.S. Justice Department. In Pennsylvania, where a photo ID isn’t needed to vote Nov. 6, the state ran a campaign – posters, mailings and TV ads – saying otherwise.

There were reports of other problems with early balloting to aggravate anxiety.

In Maryland, some absentee ballots were mailed missing the page that included Question 6, the marriage equality question, and voters who received Spanish-language ballots complained that the summary for the marriage question contained an error that could lead people to vote opposite their intention.

In Texas, the state attorney general threatened to arrest observers with an international group invited to monitor the election if they came within 100 feet of polling places.

Watching in Waukesha

Concerns about the next election were being raised as questions about prior elections remain, specifically in Waukesha County, where County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus has been challenged by good government groups, urged to resign by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and investigated by the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.

Nickolaus came to national attention in April 2011 after she failed to include Brookfield results – 14,315 votes – in the totals reported on election night. That contributed to a recount in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race between conservative Justice David Prosser and liberal challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg. Nickolaus’ discovery was convenient for Prosser, who was declared the winner, costly for taxpayers and highly controversial.

The GAB, after a four-day canvas, stated, “Although there were some anomalies identified, the GAB found no major discrepancies between Waukesha County’s official canvas report and the documentation provided by the municipalities. This does not warrant correction of the canvass absent any post-election proceedings.”

In September, after a more extensive review, the GAB said it found probable cause to believe Nickolaus violated state law requiring clerks to post all returns on election night, but the violation was not willful and did not constitute criminal misconduct.

The GAB chair wrote to Nickolaus: “When one election official fails to act consistent with those responsibilities, steps must be taken to correct the failure in order to prevent it from recurring, and to restore public confidence and trust in the administration of elections.”

Fair election advocates have focused on the clerk again.

In the April presidential primary, because of computer problems, Nickolaus’ office manually entered vote totals by hand, proofed them against machine tapes and posted unofficial results online – at about 2 a.m. the day after the election.

Soon after, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel headlined an editorial “Waukesha County clerk needs to step down. Upcoming elections – from the gubernatorial recall to the presidential – are too important to leave in the hands of Kathy Nickolaus.”

The newspaper also reported that Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas said he would call for Nickolaus’ resignation unless she handed off her election duties in the upcoming recalls to her deputy. According to the newspaper and a news release from the GAB in April, Nickolaus agreed to delegate vote-tallying duties to deputy Kelly Yaeger in the upcoming recalls.

But, for the May 8 recall primaries, Nickolaus was in the office on election night and several media outlets reported she appeared to be in charge.

That, and conflicting statements from county officials, led to concerns about who would be in charge of collecting and counting the June 5 gubernatorial recall ballots. On recall day, Kelly Steele of the activist group We Are Wisconsin, said, “Vrakas promised the voters of Wisconsin he’d taken care of his ‘Kathy Nickolaus problem’ so that the stench of incompetence and possible corruption emanating from Waukesha County was a thing of the past. Alarmingly, as we tabulate the most important election in Wisconsin history, Kathy Nickolaus remains firmly planted in the heart of Scott Walker’s base and Dan Vrakas has not only failed to keep his word, he’s now stonewalling questions about who’s actually running the election in Waukesha County.”

Controversy continued through the summer, with Nickolaus, according to watchdog groups such as Liberty Tree’s Wisconsin Wave project, putting up barriers to a hand count of the June 5 ballots, part of a statewide citizen audit effort. In mid-August, she threatened to destroy the ballots.

Vrakas’ office returned press calls regarding Nickolaus’ role on Nov. 6. Nickolaus, in an email, said, “I have no comment. Thank you.”

At the GAB, public information officer Reid Magney stated, “We continue to work with the Waukesha County Clerk’s office. There were no problems in the August partisan primary, and we do not expect any in November.”

He added, “Questions about responsibilities in the Waukesha County Clerk’s office should be directed to that office or the county executive’s office.”

Waukesha County Corporation Counsel Thomas P. Farley said state law provides Nickolaus’ authority and mandates her responsibilities. “Statutorily, she has to do what she has been elected to do,” he said, adding that he was unaware of how her office would run on Nov. 6.

If Nickolaus does run that show, it will be her last. She announced in April she would not seek re-election and on Nov. 6 voters will elect either Republican Kathleen Novack or Democrat Jessie Read, whose campaign slogan is “HINT: Honesty, Integrity, Nonpartisanship, Transparency.”

Protecting the vote

Several groups plan to monitor Wisconsin’s vote.

“We have a major election observer program,” said Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network. “We’ve been recruiting and training volunteers from all over the state. This is the fourth time we’ve done this in a fairly big way. …With this kind of election observer program, Wisconsin is out front.”

For the June recall election, the league fielded 150 observers at 110 polling places. On Nov. 6, it will dispatch at least 300 volunteers trained to observe and primed on state election law. They’ll be looking to see whether the polls operate on schedule, equipment is operational, voting is private, check-in and registration tables are separate and that eligible voters aren’t being turned away due to confusion over the law. 

Observers take any concerns to a chief inspector at the polling place and, if necessary, the league headquarters or attorneys. “We assess the situation,” Kaminski said, noting that observers don’t interact with voters. By state law, observers must stand at least 6-12 feet from any voter casting a ballot.

Common Cause also is watchdogging the election. In addition to fielding poll monitors, the organization has lobbied for the removal of the voter fraud billboards, called for an investigation of alleged intimidation in Florida and campaigned to extend early voting hours in Ohio. 

“The entire voting rights community is mobilized to protect voters’ rights,” Edgar said.

Meanwhile, legal groups, including the ACLU of Wisconsin, are working hotlines on Election Day to help voters with concerns and questions.

After Nov. 6, expect the watchdog work to continue, along with efforts to reform the election system and increase voter participation.

In its September newsletter, the Wisconsin Wave project said, “We will also again be putting out the call for nationwide voter assemblies on Nov. 7 – the day after the election, gatherings that will serve as instant organizing platforms if there is evidence that the fall election was stolen.”

On Election Day

The nonpartisan Wisconsin Election Protection coalition is part of the 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) hotline. Volunteers and attorneys answer calls from voters.

Republican enthusiasm, margins are down

If April 3 voter turnout is an indication, Wisconsin Republicans could be in trouble come November.

With 98 percent of the state’s precincts reporting, about 720,000 votes were cast in the hotly contested Republican presidential primary. That’s about half the 1.4 million Wisconsin voters who turned out for the Democratic presidential primary in 2008.

Mitt Romney’s win in the Badger State, combined with his April 3 wins in Maryland and Washington, D.C., should help seal the deal for his up-and-down struggle for the GOP nomination. But the 43 percent of the vote he amassed in Wisconsin over Rick Santorum’s 38 percent compares dismally with Barack Obama’s 58 to 40 percent win over Hillary Clinton four years ago.

Meanwhile, spending for Romney’s campaign in Wisconsin was 55 times higher than for Santorum.

Overall voter turnout in the state also signaled an unenthusiastic electorate. Only about 23 percent of eligible voters participated in the April 3 elections – far short of the 35 percent voter turnout predicted by the Government Accountability Board.

About 290,000 people voted in the Democratic primary, which was not contested.

Some of the difference can be attributed to the rescheduling of the presidential primary election from February to April– after the race was further along.

But the GAB had predicted that competitive local races on the ballot in this year’s presidential primary and the do-or-die aura surrounding Romney’s Wisconsin bid would compensate for the difference.

Local races also boded poorly for Republicans in the state, who face an historic recall election of Gov. Scott Walker in June. The animosity toward the governor percolated down to the grassroots level, where three Walker-appointed judges were voted off the bench in Milwaukee, Dane and Racine counties.

Carolina Stark, an administrative law judge, won a commanding victory for Milwaukee County Circuit Court over incumbent Judge Nelson Phillips III, who was appointed by Walker last October. Stark, with no name recognition and meager funding, took 56 percent of the vote.

“She just ran right at Scott Walker,” said Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski. “This is unusual for a judicial race, but it’s kind of a canary in the coal mine.”

Zielinski said Walker’s absence in the media in recent days shows the GOP is aware of how tarnished the governor’s political brand has become in the state.

“(Walker) loves prancing around in front of the national cameras comparing himself to Reagan and talking about how bold he is,” Zielinski said. “But we had the national media focused on Wisconsin Republicans, and suddenly Scott Walker was nowhere to be found.”

Zielinski noted that Walker appeared to disappear from public view around the time of the bombing of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Outagamie County. Santorum condemned the act of domestic terrorism, but neither Walker nor Romney did.

A man was arrested in Grand Chute on April 3 in connection with the bombing.

In other races, candidates endorsed by the Fair Wisconsin PAC scored strongly at the polls, said executive director Katie Belanger.

One of the shocking thisgs is how caroline stsr did. Dhe just ran right at scot waler. This is unusual for a judicial race but it’s kind of a canary in the coal mine.

Last night I thought you saw really mediocr turnout for Republicans in an election that was basically do or die for two of the candidatews.

The R camapgin left n oinfratstructure here. Obama left some of his field offices  after the 2008 primary.

The planned parenthood bombing and what effect that had. All the candidates including scott wlake rhave talked about p and we had an act of domestic terrorism right here in Wis. It was something that was meant to indtimidate a whole class of people. O don’t give Rick Santor for much but he came out and condemned this attack right awa. Sco walerk and Mitt Romney have been totally silent on this

The attitude among women toward Republican. Given in Wicons the alst tday of the legislate sessin they massed all these nutty bills about rprproductive health, the gap between women and the rpublian Party is going to go.

Scto Walker absolutely disappeared. I do’t know if it was before or after the pp boming. He’d been par tof the stump speeches for Sant and ronney. If sw was such a great po9litial brand, he would have been everywhere. He loves pracibg aorudn I front of the national cmeras comparing himself to Reagan and talign about how bold he is. But w ehad the national media focusee on Wis for republicans and ‘scott Walerk was nowhere to be foud

Instead the GOP trotted out Ryan

I thnk on th presidential front we had a February prewisdnetila primary and Wisconsin was early in the past and more state s have had their say before we got to wisconsi. I wonder how that impacted thr ce

The sign is that the people of Wisocn  want different leadership and they want people who are going to focus on the things that matter to them and those are jobs, the ecoomy and invetting in our communities. Those are the thigs that ra=are really hitting hoe with them;

The story coming out of Apleton is jstu so powerful where  mayor Hanna won by 67 percent of the vote and all of the pro-fiarness people runinig for reelction on the ity council won all of the peole who voted for domesti parter benefits o=won their faces. . That really changes the landscape. Tyey faced the strongest backlash of the communituies we’ver worked in for taking a step and beocoigni an inlusive comm. And they own overwhelming.

Appletoe taxpayers united ran some pretty conservative anti-equality candidates at the city council and the shcoll board level. The school borad race they ran a canddiat ethat wanted to ban any boksk that made freference to LGBT. That was his platform and he lost.

All of F@’s races were victories in Appleton. I just think that’s such a powerful narrative of peolel inveting in their future, standing up for fairness and being overhwlemingly relected

The same thing in Dance county and racien. Walkerappointees to judicial positions lost their reeelction. Altogoterh three candidates

\Bwt2wen the resultf of the presidential primary and the local elections and the three judges, it means the electorate is tired of the political game of division and they want peole to take action and foxcs on the rplblems at hand for thepeoell of Wisconsin”

“We expect turnout in this election to be similar to the February 2008 Presidential Preference Primary,” said Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel of the G.A.B.  “The Republican presidential nomination is still very contested, just as the Democratic nomination was very contested when Wisconsin voted in 2008.”

With 98 percent of precincts reporting about 720,000 votes had been cast in Wisconsin’s Republican presidential primary. That’s about half the 1.4 million voters who turned out to vote in Wisconsin’s Democratic presidential primary in 2008.

Historically, the highest voter turnout in a Spring presidential primary since 1960 was 50.2 percent that year

The April 3 elections were should have been Our communities are unique, but across the state, gains for fairness have been made today.  Our local elected officials are on the front lines, helping advance measures like domestic partner benefits and anti-discrimination laws in places like Appleton, Racine and Manitowoc. In the current political environment in Wisconsin, our elected officials are more critical than ever to advancing and protecting the civil rights of LGBT Wisconsinites. We are proud to have stood with these candidates during their campaigns.

Milwaukee City Council: Alders Willie Hines, Nik Kovac and Tony Zielinski,

Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judges, Lindsey Grady and Carolina Stark,

Dane County Circuit Court Judge, Ellen Berz,

Dane County Board Supervisors, defending four pro-fairness incumbents, picking up three open seats previously held by anti-fairness incumbents and three more anti-fairness incumbents defeated to help dramatically increase the progressive majority on the County Board: Supervisors McDonell, Zweifel, Richmond, Hendrick, Veldran, Bayrd, Hesselbein, Matano, Rusk, Erickson, Hampton, Pertl, Sargent, McCarville, Schmidt, Kiefer, Corrigan, Downing, Hotchkiss, Dye, Miles and Salov.

From Wisconsin State Journal

Liberals increased their majority on the Dane County Board in Tuesday’s elections after a year in which a bloc of conservatives twice halted borrowing resolutions that required a two-thirds vote.

County Board Chairman Scott McDonell said he had worried that the Republican presidential primary would bring out large numbers of conservatives to the polls and make it difficult for liberals to pick up two seats lost to conservatives in 2010 elections.

But it appeared that the number of liberals on the 37-member board increased to 28 from 23, McDonell said.

Conservative incumbents Jack Martz of Fitchburg, Don Imhoff of Madison and Mike Willett of Verona all lost to liberal challengers.

“This breaks the back of the Republican Party in Dane County,” McDonell said. “They are not competitive at the county level.”

The unpopularity of Republican Gov. Scott Walker in Dane County helped galvanize voters for liberal board candidates, McDonell said.

Liberal incumbents Paul Rusk and Matt Veldran of Madison, Patrick Miles of McFarland and Patrick Downing of Blanchardville won re-election.

Conservative Ronn Ferrell of Madison was the only conservative incumbent to survive a contested race.

Ten of the board’s 14 conservatives blocked $25.9 million in bonding in September. McDonell and others said the move put county finances at risk. The borrowing was approved three weeks later, but $2.6 million for such items as land acquisitions, a pedestrian bridge, computers and building renovations was removed. In December, the group blocked $937,000 to fix dams and locks.

A Dane County advisory referendum on collective bargaining was poised to pass by a wide margin with most wards reporting. Voters were asked “Should all Wisconsin workers have the right to seek safe working conditions and fair pay through collective bargaining?”

From our story:

Progressives are closely watching three Dane County Board races in which political newcomers are challenging right-wing incumbents.

Conservatives control only 14 seats on the board, while progressives hold 23. But despite their minority status, conservatives have succeeded at mustering the 10 votes necessary to block borrowing initiatives that have jeopardized the county’s ability to make road improvements, purchase vehicles and 911 equipment, manage land conservation projects and operate other vital programs and services.

“They’ve been able to procedural tricks to hold up funding for very important projects,” says Dane County Democratic Party chair Michael Basford. “Just like on the U.S. Senate, a small minority on the county board can grind things to a halt.”

Democrats believe the anti-Republican backlash against Gov. Scott Walker will help them eliminate the board’s 10-vote conservative bloc on April 3. Basford says that during his 25 years of involvement in county politics, “I’ve never seen this amount of excitement and interest among activists on our side.”

But Republicans will be drawn to the polls on April 3 to vote in a contentious presidential primary, while Democrats have no high-profile races on the ticket to generate turnout. Basford acknowledges the challenge this presents for Democrats. But he says the caliber of progressive candidates who’ve been inspired to run for the board this year is exceptional.

The county, which voted overwhelmingly Democratic in the 2008 presidential election and the 2010 U.S. Senate race, also has a new electoral map that favors Democrats, Basford adds.

Among this year’s Demcoratic challengers is out candidate Susan Bailey, an IT project manager who’s taking on Ronn Ferrell in District 15. Ferrell voted against domestic partner benefits for Dane County workers, against collective bargaining rights, against a voter’s rights resolution and in favor of a measure to eliminate county funding for Planned Parenthood.

Bailey describes Ferrell as “an aberration” in a district that has voted consistently Democratic in recent years in presidential and U.S. Senate races. She accuses Ferrell of winning – in 2010 by a margin of only 43 votes –by misrepresenting his record and hiding behind the façade of a moderate.

“He’s a very genial man, and when he goes out and talks to people, he tells them how moderate and independent he is,” Bailey says. “But when you look at his vote straight down the line, he’s strictly … Tea Party.”

“I want to see the district represented fairly,” Bailey says. “I’m a constituent of his, and I don’t feel like I’ve been represented. I don’t feel like he’s listened or paid attention to me. … Ronn’s values just don’t match the values of the people in this district.”

Ferrell is supported by the Republican Women of Dane County.

If Bailey wins, she will become one of only three out gay members of the 37-member Dane County board, joining openly gay supervisors Kyle Richman and Chuck Erickson. Madison, the county seat, ranks seventh among the nation’s mid-size cities in the number of same-sex couples per 1,000 households, according to the 2010 census.

In District 17, which includes the east side of Madison, equality ally Jeff Pertl hopes to unseat Don Imhoff, who’s also backed by the Republican Woman of Dane County. Imhoff beat a progressive incumbent in 2010. Since joining the board, he’s voted to delete county board funding for Planned Parenthood and opposed a board resolution to file a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of the state’s domestic partner registry law. He also voted “no” on a resolution to extend county contracts with union workers in order to keep their collective bargaining rights intact before Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial union-busting bill took effect.

“Don is part of a conservative gang of 10 that’s been hawkish on budget issues,” Pertl says. “He’s played politics with the debt. The debt really isn’t our biggest challenge. We spend about 3.5 percent of the county budget servicing the debt. By contrast, Walker’s budget spends five.

“This one-trick pony around debt, debt, debt is something they use to scare people. But you can be super progressive and still be really smart about the budget and use it to serve more people.”

Pertl has a master’s degree in public policy from the University of California – Berkeley. He works as a policy advisor on education issues and serves as federal funds trustee for Tony Evers, the state’s superintendent of public instruction.

Pertl managed out U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin’s 2006 congressional campaign.

Emhoff is a real estate appraiser who had no political or public policy experience prior to his election to the county board.

The third race that’s being closely watched by progressives is in District 32, which includes Verona, where progressive Erika Hotchkiss is challenging conservative Mike Willett.

Willett, who has the most right-wing voting record of the three supervisors, opposed Dane County domestic partner benefits and was the lead sponsor of the board’s resolution to eliminate county funding for Planned Parenthood. He has opposed resolutions to support both voter’s rights and union rights.

Hotchkiss is a small business owner and a mental health nurse at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Madison.

“These races are three of our best opportunities,” Basford says. “I think these new candidates are bringing that energy to the energy to their campaigns that give their districts a chance to elect people who more reflect their values.”