MacIver News Service | July 13, 2012 - Updated 5:25pm
[Madison, Wisc...] The head of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board says voter confidence could be undermined because Assembly Republicans are bringing attention to election law violations that took place in the City of Racine during the recent recount.
"Speaking frankly on behalf of our agency and local election officials, absent direct evidence, I believe continued unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud tend to unnecessarily undermine the confidence that voters have in election officials and the results of the election," Kevin Kennedy, GAB Director, wrote to Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald in response to a letter from Assembly leadership. "I hope that, as an elected official, you would also agree that there is little benefit in promoting unsupported allegations questioning the credibility of the election process and the work of local clerks and election inspectors."
Kennedy wrote this despite the fact that during Racine County's two-week long recount of the Senate District 21 Recall Election results several clear violations of state law were uncovered.
Several ballot bags had been opened and resealed (some with unauthorized packing tape) without explanation. Also, newly registered voters had not followed state law regarding signing the supplemental poll lists.
The recount also uncovered evidence that some poll workers pre-initialed ballots making them 'live,' a serious breech of election day procedures.
The leadrs of the State Assembly sent a letter to the GAB on Wednesday demanding to know what was being done to make sure these incidents were not repeated.
"From the tampering of ballot bags to unsigned poll books, there are serious questions regarding the integrity of our election process," they wrote. "We would like to know the specific plans that the GAB will pursue to restore the trust in our election process."
One chief election inspector, Michael Clark, testified under oath that he had no idea why a ballot bag from his polling location was opened and resealed. You can watch Clark's testimony by clicking here.
However, in his response to the lawmakers on Friday, the GAB's Kennedy claimed "Our contacts with local election officials in Racine County have made no mention of unauthorized individuals tampering with ballot bags. In the reports that have been brought to our attention, the bags were securely sealed on Election Night, but had to be re-opened for legitimate reasons."
Kennedy then tried to downplay the unsigned poll books.
"The G.A.B. is aware of several instances where newly registered voters were not properly instructed by election inspectors to sign the supplemental poll list as required by Wis. Stat. § 6.79(2). We are also aware that some supplemental poll lists were disorganized. The failure of an election inspector to properly require a newly registered voter to sign the poll book however, is very different than a voter obtaining a ballot under false pretenses or an election official intentionally disregarding the law," said Kennedy in his response.
Kennedy said that at the next meeting of the Board, GAB staff will present a report about issues that arose in Racine. The agency also announced they have created a team to help educate local elections officials before the fall general elections.
Meanwhile the Racine Sheriff's Department concluded their investigation into discarded election documents and sent their findings to the District Attorney for further action earlier this week. The Racine County District Attorney's announced late Friday that no charges will be filed based on the results of that inquiry.
"A thorough inquiry was made into the somewhat limited information that was provided. Some of the information that was provided was anecdotal, as opposed to first hand eyewitness accounts," reads a release from the Racine DA's office. "Based on the information that was received, it was determined that said information did not rise to the level required for a criminal prosecution."
The District Attorney's office said the proverbial ball is in the GAB's court.
"Much of what was reported as fraud was more appropriately categorized as rule violations that are under the jurisdiction of the Government Accountability Board (GAB)," according to the Racine County District Attorney's office statement. "The GAB is charged with the investigation and handling of such violations. Many of the concerns raised are issues more appropriately dealt with by the GAB and through subsequent action by the legislature."
The Racine County DA's office however, is expecting more cooperation from the Racine City Clerk's office.
"The District Attorney's Office has requested that the City Clerk's Office identify voter irregularities; such as ineligible voters who voted illegally and voters who may have voted more than once. If such irregularities are discovered, the names of those voters will be forwarded to law enforcement and the District Attorney's Office for prosecution."
Check back for further reaction to this developing story.