Schimel Patrols Only Democratic Voters?
AG’s “Election Integrity Unit” will monitor polls, but targets urban or Democratic areas.
Yesterday Attorney General Brad Schimel announced a major effort to oversee elections in Wisconsin, with a particular emphasis on criminal wrongdoing: his Department of Justice would be sending out assistant attorneys general and special agents from the Division of Criminal Investigation to monitor polling sites. “Voters in Wisconsin must have faith that when they cast their ballot, the integrity of their vote will be protected,” Schimel declared.
That sounds like a major initiative, given the state has 72 counties, hundreds of cities and thousands of polling places. But in fact the effort includes just 16 teams that will be sent to five counties (Brown, Dane, Outagamie, Rock, Milwaukee) and seven cities (Eau Claire, Kenosha, La Crosse, Racine, Stevens Point, Waukesha, and Wausau).
These are mostly heavily Democratic areas. And the one reliably Republican-leaning area, the city of Waukesha, is nearly 18 percent minority, with a significant Latino population. Republicans, of course, have long argued (with little or no evidence) that voter fraud is significant in urban and minority areas.
If the idea was to choose the areas of heaviest population, then why not send agents to heavily Republican Menomonee Falls or West Bend rather than the smaller city of Stevens Point? Why not heavily Republican New Berlin rather than the smaller city of Wausau?
Ah, but that’s not the idea, Ballweg insists: “DOJ election monitor teams are located in a fashion that allows them to quickly respond anywhere in the state.”
In that case why no agents in the entire northern third of the state or the state’s central portion?
Ballweg says the DOJ is simply continuing a tradition established in 2004 by Democratic AG Peg Lautenschlager. She, however, isn’t buying any of that.
“My effort had a different slant,” Lautenschlager says. It was not about ferreting out voter fraud but “to make sure voters got to vote when they had proper identification. We sent out special agents because there were individuals trying to prevent people from voting. It was to assure voters were not intimidated. And I don’t think that’s what Brad Schimel is doing.”
Actually, Schimel’s press release says his teams will monitor polling sites for such violations as “observer misconduct, or wrongful denial of right to vote.” That does sound similar to Lautenschlager’s concerns.
But Schimel’s release also provides a link to a page entitled “Question and Answer: Election Integrity” and there the story changes. “DOJ staff have encountered a variety of problems,” we’re told. “A wide variety of criminal election fraud, including felon voting, double voting, and registration fraud have been criminally prosecuted. The primary purpose of election monitoring is to prevent and deter illegal activity.”
None of that is in Schimel’s one-page press release, perhaps because there’s scant evidence of such activity occurring. Schimel’s predecessor, Republican J.B. Van Hollen, had a chance in 2014 to make the case that voter fraud was a problem in Wisconsin in a federal court case, and couldn’t do it. As Federal Judge Lynn Adelman concluded, “The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past.”
That preoccupation comes through in Schimel’s Q and A on Election Integrity, which raises considerable doubts about just what his monitors will be doing.
It is the Wisconsin Elections Commission, newly created this year by a Republican legislature and Republican governor, that oversees elections in the state and it has not requested the help from the DOJ. “It’s their call,” says the commission’s administrator Michael Haas. “It’s really their decision.”
Certainly the commission doesn’t see voter fraud as much of a problem. (Nor did its predecessor, the Government Accountability Board.) In a recent discussion at Marquette University’s Law School, commission member Don Mills said, “I see no evidence of widespread voter fraud that’s ever affected an election.”
The only kind of fraud that’s been proven has involved felons who haven’t finished their parole and probation (after which they can legally vote), and even that number is miniscule. As Mark Thomsen, chairman of the Wisconsin Elections Commission noted, “The number of felons voting was so insignificant that we didn’t know if we wanted to keep the records anymore. It had virtually no impact on any real election.”
But Schimel continues to insist on a problem he couldn’t prove in court. Lautenschlager worries that the DOJ monitors may intimidate legal voters. Haas is confident they will “be unobtrusive” at the polls. I hope he’s right.