Liberal Activists Target Wisconsin’s Two Largest Cities for Recall Get Out the Vote Efforts

MacIver News Service | May 22, 2012

[Madison, Wisc…] Despite Democratic gubernatorial recall candidate Tom Barrett trailing in most publicly-released polls by 5-6 points, liberal special interest groups are mounting an aggressive get out the vote strategy now that their voter registration efforts have ended.

The City of Madison currently has 1,077 Special Registration Deputies for 2012–individuals who go out into the community to get eligible voters to fill out registration forms.

When registering as an SRD, individuals are asked to list the organization they are affiliated with. Dozens of progressive groups are represented among Madison’s SRD including Organizing for America and the Autonomous Solidarity Organization.

The City of Madison Clerk’s office does not keep track of how many voters were registered by each individual SRD.

Organizing for America, the grassroots arm of the Obama campaign, lists contributed at least 20 SRD’s to the effort. The ASO, or the Autonomous Solidarity Organization, is a protest group, whose members initiated some of the most notorious incidents around the Capitol, including stalking Republican lawmakers, protesting the Special Olympics, and coordinating a massive disruption of a Joint Finance Committee Meeting. That group had four registered SRDs. Other liberal/progressive groups registering people to vote in Madison include East Side Progressives, the Baldwin Campaign, Madison Teachers Inc., and the Young Progressives.

The deadline to turn in registration forms was May 16th. In the city of Madison, since May 9th, 1,142 new voters were registered this year by SRDs. In all Madison saw more than 12,400 new registrations submitted to the clerk in 2012 (which included new voters, address changes, and name changes.)

Many get out the vote efforts concentrate on registering new voters and then getting them to the polls before Election Day. Under Wisconsin law, voters do not need to state a reason to vote via absentee ballot in the two weeks prior to an election.

636 absentee ballots were cast in Madison, the first day Wisconsinites could vote Absentee for the June 5th recall.

A staffer at the City Clerk’s office said Madison probably has the highest turnover of electorates in the state. He said it “would be a fair statement,” to say most of that turnover occurs because of the university.

“We certainly have a higher percentage of absentees [than most other Wisconsin cities],” he told the MacIver News Service.

In fact, more people voted absentee in Madison on Monday than in the much larger city of Milwaukee, when 457 voters cast their ballots there.

Leading the early voting efforts in Milwaukee is the notorious Wisconsin Jobs Now.

Jobs Now VanDuring the August 2011 State Senate recall elections, which included a district that covered part of the City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin Jobs Now! advertised voter block parties on its website, where there would be free Speed Queen barbecue and prize drawings. There were also vans there to take people to the polls to vote absentee.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin and Media Trackers, a conservative non-profit, non-partisan investigative watchdog, filed complaints about the block parties. According to Media Trackers:

On August 1, a source who wishes to remain anonymous attended a Wisconsin Jobs Now! “block party” and witnessed a number of illegal activities firsthand. Upon checking in, the source was given a free meal ticket and a raffle ticket for a prize drawing before being whisked away in a white van to Milwaukee City Hall. At Milwaukee City Hall, personnel wearing Wisconsin Jobs Now! t-shirts explained the ballot and assisted voters with registration forms all from inside the Milwaukee Election Commission office, a polling location

The Media Trackers complaint alleged Wisconsin Jobs Now! violated two sections of Chapter 12 of the Wisconsin statutes: those covering election bribery and electioneering at a polling place.

Peter Pickett of the Government Accountability Board had earlier told the MacIver News Service it would be illegal to give people anything of value before giving them rides to the polls. It is also illegal to combine giveaways with transportation to the polls.

“If they walk in with a sticker that says ‘I voted ‘that’s one thing, but if they eat before they vote that’s a problem,” Pickett said before the complaint was filed. “It’s still a questionable practice on way or the other.”

The Republican Party of Wisconsin and Media Trackers both filed formal complaints with Wisconsin Government Accountability Board about this incident.

In August of 2011, GAB official told the MacIver News Service it had discussed the complaints with the Milwaukee District Attorney’s Office and that it was then up to the District Attorney to take further action.

“We take these things very seriously,” Bruce Landgraf, Assistant District Attorney, said at the time. “It’s under review.”

However, the Milwaukee County District Attorney declined to issue any charges in the incident and the GAB dropped the complaint last year.

This time around, Jobs Now is not giving away food and prizes at mid week parties, but they did launch their Get out the Vote effort this Sunday with a Rebuild Wisconsin Rally in Milwaukee featuring speakers like Van Jones. They continue to mount an aggressive push to bring people to the polls.

Today, their website shows several dozen locations where would-be voters could be picked up and driven to the Milwaukee Municipal Building, the poling place for early voting in Milwaukee.

Get-out-the-vote efforts are perfectly legal, as are some of the extraordinary efforts of the Election officials in the state’s largest cities to staff the early voting polling locations.

The election officials in Madison and Milwaukee are going out of their way to encourage successful early voting efforts in their cities. Both will keep the polling locations for early voting open for extended evening hours prior to the June 5 recall including being open on the weekends and the Memorial Day holiday.

While the Walker campaign, the state and county Republican parties and conservative groups are encouraging early absentee voting as well, these efforts are mostly via phone calls and mailers. 

There is no such comparable GOTV effort to transport likely Walker voters to the polls in Madison, Milwaukee, or anywhere else in Wisconsin prior to June 5th.