Where Are the Violations?
The Romney volunteers observed elections and found no fraud here. Mostly, they just looked intimidating.
“So, I see lots of people voting; what do you see?”
I posed this question to a fellow election observer named Mike on Election Day. Mike was working as a volunteer for the Romney campaign; I was working as a volunteer for the Obama campaign. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a trial lawyer, it’s that perspective is an amazing thing. Two people can look at the same event and see two totally different things, depending on their perspective.
I really wanted to see what they were seeing.
Working for Obama Voter Protection as an election observer, I visited several polling sites all over Milwaukee on election day, checking in with polling place Chief Inspectors and staff who put in long hours processing voters waiting in long lines to vote. It was obvious that turnout was huge.
“There are several rule violations here,” said Mike. I had walked over and introduced myself to him. I figured, why stare at each other from across the gym floor at this school and polling site? We were all working toward the same goal: to observe the voting and detect any problems. We should compare notes, I thought. After all, we all wanted the same thing: lawful and orderly voting.
Problem was, we weren’t observing the same way, and we weren’t seeing the same thing. I saw voting, and Mike saw rule violations.
“What rules are being violated?” I asked Mike. He replied that he had more people coming out to deal with it and he’d say when they got there. They never came, and Mike never told me what the rules violations he saw were. I didn’t see any violations, and if I had, I’d have noted my objections with the Chief Inspector at the polling place. Actually, what I didn’t tell Mike was that I was called out to deal with him, as the Obama Voter Protection observers at that site were alarmed when Mike got a bit too close to the voting process, at one point even sitting at the Chief Inspector’s table and asking to review her training materials. The only actual violation I observed was that Mike forgot to sign in as an observer with the Chief Inspector; he eventually did so when asked.
This was the pattern for most of the day as I went from site to site. Election observers from Romney/Ryan/GOP, usually signing in as “concerned citizens,” would try to get as close as possible to the tables where people checked in to vote, often armed with binders full of names. As people checked in, they would listen attentively to the name, look through binders, stare, and just generally be, well, intimidating. At several sites they complained to the Chief Inspector that they weren’t allowed to get close enough to the voter check-in spots (the Government Accountability Board set a guideline for observers of 6-12 feet from check-in). A few times at the polling places I visited, this led to disagreements. At one site, the Chief Inspector ordered a “concerned citizen” out of the polling place for being too aggressive; at another site, a Milwaukee County DA and two police officers were called in by the Chief Inspector to tell all observers to listen to the poll workers and stop being so demanding. In other words, it’s about the voters and the workers manning the process, not the observers. When the observers who are there to verify the integrity of this vital civic process start interfering with and disrupting the process, there is a problem.
In the end, after a long day, I realized that I did not see a single voter challenged. There is a legal procedure for challenging a suspected ineligible voter. The Chief Inspector is notified of the challenge and basis for it, and a process then begins where the challenged voter is required to answer questions under oath. I never saw an observer from Romney/Ryan/GOP, or any “concerned citizen” initiate a challenge, despite all their hovering, binder-flipping, posting up, and complaining. They never put their money where their mouths were regarding all their claims of suspected systemic voter fraud in Milwaukee. Because there wasn’t any. What there was, was lots of people voting, all under the guidance of election officials and workers, and this year, under heavy observation by both sides. Democracy at work – big time.
In the aftermath of the election, I have thought about my own Election Day experience as Congressman Paul Ryan blamed the GOP loss on urban voter turnout, and as Governor Scott Walker went to California and talked of the need for photo ID voting in our State.
It is sad that many people in Wisconsin apparently believe that large voter turnout in urban areas (read: Milwaukee and minority) is suspect or the result of voter fraud. It is even sadder when political leaders like Governor Walker and Congressman Ryan won’t simply speak the truth, and debunk that myth. They really should – that’s what leaders do. Election Day in Wisconsin was a living exhibit of a great state bustling with dedicated election workers and enthusiastic voters, monitored by city, state and federal agencies, and observed by concerned citizens from both campaigns and a variety of other groups.
We should take great pride in this. Elections work in Wisconsin. Long lines? Yes. Always perfect? No. But systemically fraudulent? C’mon, Governor and Congressman, you know better, and you owe it to the state – the entire state – to plainly say so. Our leaders should boast about Wisconsin’s elections and high turnout, confirm their credibility, and promote participation, rather than tacitly encourage myths about urban voter fraud, promote laws that make it harder to vote, or blame election losses on large turnout in urban areas. When our leaders talk like this, democracy is sullied, and we all lose.
My fellow election observer Mike wouldn’t agree with me, but then, that’s what elections are all about, right?
Craig Mastantuono is a Milwaukee attorney and managing partner of Mastantuono Law Office, S.C. He participated as an Obama delegate at the DNC 2012 Convention in Charlotte, NC.