MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN—Less than one week after the Supreme Court delayed the implementation of Wisconsin’s voter ID law until after the midterm elections, a GOP official urged Republican activists to take matters into their own hands to prevent voter fraud.
Milwaukee County’s Republican Elections Commissioner Rick Baas warned a crowd of volunteers and supporters Friday night to be “concerned about voter fraud,” and urged the hundreds of attendees to take an “extra step of vigilance.” “You as a Wisconsin resident can challenge people who are not supposed to be voting,” he said at the Milwaukee County Republicans event. “You’ve got to do that.”
Under state law, voters, election workers, official observers, or any member of the public can challenge the validity of someone’s vote, but to do so, they must swear under oath that they have firsthand knowledge that the person is not qualified to vote. A challenge cannot be based on a mere suspicion or hunch.
“Providing those parameters would be important to any discussion related to voter challenges,” Milwaukee City Election Commission Director Neil Albrecht told ThinkProgress. “Failure to provide has the potential to incite unsubstantiated challenges and a disruption to voting.”
Others echoed this concern that Baas’ invocation for “challenging” at the polls would hurt legitimate voters. “There’s a fine line by legitimate questions and harassment and intimidation,” said Darryl Morin, the Midwest vice president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). Morin told ThinkProgress that as a Republican it is “disappointing” to see such rhetoric coming from “a party that claims to be reaching out to minorities.”
Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) signed a law earlier this year allowing poll observers to be as close as three feet to a voter. Democratic lawmakers and progressive organizers have expressed concern that the measure could lead to greater harassment and intimidation and Morin said that some of LULAC’s Wisconsin members have already experienced such treatment when going to cast a ballot.
“We completely agree that the vote is a very precious thing, but to put barriers before people who are eligible to vote just should not be allowed. When you look at the law that was passed in Wisconsin and the people who were impacted—the majority of them Hispanics or African Americans—it’s hard to believe that it happened just by chance,” Morin added.
LULAC, which has been involved in voting rights struggles since the days of the poll tax, has been battling Wisconsin’s voter ID law for the past few years on behalf of its Latino members who would be disenfranchised by the measure. Morin said he’s frustrated by politicians who feed “the false impression that if you have a dark tint to your skin, you’re obviously illegal and a criminal and you’re dealing drugs.”
Commissioner Baas was one of many officials at the Milwaukee County Republican Party event to lament the recent Supreme Court ruling putting Wisconsin’s voter ID law on hold for this November’s election.
Republican Dan Sebring, who is running for the fourth time against Gwen Moore (D-WI) for her seat in the House of Representatives, said that the ruling “stinks,” while the Republican candidate for Attorney General, Brad Schimel, called it “bad news”—prompting the whole crowd to boo the high court. He then counseled them: “The best way you can prevent someone from stealing your vote is if you use your vote. Make sure no one can go in and take your line in the ballot box.”
Schimel and others at the event said repeatedly that they were concerned about voter fraud. But countless studies in Wisconsin and around the country have found in-person voter impersonation to be nearly non-existent. And the kinds of fraud that are more common—like fake absentee ballots, vote buying, fake registration forms, and ballot box stuffing by officials in on the scam—would not be prevented by a voter ID law. And most ironically, the one case of voter fraud cited in court is against an elderly supporter of Walker.