Although Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker survived his June 5 recall election, Democrats won control of the senate when John Lehman (D) prevailed over incumbent Sen. Van Wanggaard (R) by a 1.2% margin. But as the Center for Media and Democracy predicted, Wisconsin Republicans are raising the spectre of "voter fraud" to cast doubt on Lehman's victory and justify Wanggaard's request for a recount -- which could return control of the Senate to Republicans.
Lack of Voter ID Blamed for "Fraud" Allegations
"In the absence of a voter ID law and so many people suspicious of the election result, bitterness and division will only grow if the results are not recounted," said Wanggaard in a June 15 press release announcing his recount request.
The vote canvass showed Wanggaard lost to Democrat John Lehman by 834 votes out of 72,000 cast.
"Unfortunately, a portion of it was fraud," asserted Rep. Robin Vos on the Sunday morning political talk show UpFront With Mike Gousha. "You can say that with certainty?" asked Gousha. "I can, a portion," replied Vos. "Yeah, I do believe that." Vos did not define what counts as "a portion."
In addition to alleging "there was no double checking to make sure that people even resided for 28 days," Vos said that "you have to have some sort of ID in my mind. I think that was another thing that led to the potential for fraud."
In March, a Wisconsin judge struck down the state's new voter ID restriction as imposing unconstitutional burdens on the right to vote. An estimated 220,000 eligible voters in Wisconsin do not have the forms of identification required under the voter ID law (but they do have other documents proving their identity and residency). Many of those without the required ID are college students, people of color, and the elderly -- populations that tend to vote for Democrats.
Vos, the chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the state, spearheaded the effort to pass the bill in 2011, which reflects key elements of the ALEC "model" Voter ID Act.
Selective Vote Fraud Hysteria
Prior to the June 5 election, with pundits on both sides predicting the recall election would be tight, GOP leaders and right-wing media also stoked fears of voter fraud to cast doubt on any potential Democratic victories. They did so in part by complaining that the restrictive voter ID law had been enjoined.
Walker and three Republican senators survived their recall elections, and none on the right questioned the legitimacy of their victories.
It was a different story for Wanggaard. In the days after the race was called for Lehman, the MacIver Institute was running stories claiming there were "curious election documents found in dumpster" outside of a polling place in Wanggaard's district, and raising concerns that a minority of poll workers in the area had signed recall petitions.
The right-wing group called "Media Trackers" also ran stories hyping allegations of fraud in Wanggaard's district of Racine. A major allegation was that election officials allowed a voter to register with improper proof of residency, despite challenges from Lou D'Abbraccio, who the group identified as "an election observer working with conservative local groups." Media Trackers did not disclose that D'Abbraccio, who supporters say "can be loud as hell when he needs to be," is on the Board of the Racine County Republican Party and runs the Racine GOP poll watching program.
D'Abbraccio was also the subject of a 2010 Nation Magazine article titled "Inside the Wisconsin Right's Voter-Suppression Scheme," which documented his efforts to train election observers by "continually elaborat[ing] on and reinforc[ing] the impression that rampant fraud by "leftist" groups threatened the integrity of the election." The Nation reported that D'Abbraccio described the role of election observers "to report such fraud to party officials and to challenge the eligibility of voters they suspected of fraud." Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice suggested that actors like D'Abbraccio, who promote a climate of "misinformation and fear" about voter fraud, "are more likely to cross lines" into voter suppression. "That's a problem," she said.
It appears that Wanggaard may be using D'Abbraccio's "findings" as justification for the recount request. In his June 15 petition for a recount, Wanggaard alleged that numerous challenges by election observers were not properly documented or acknowledged, that individuals were registered and voted without proper proof of residence, and that individuals voted in more than one location, among other allegations. These claims echo D'Abbraccio's summary of purported vote fraud in the area.
Voter Suppression from Out-Of-State Agitators?
D'Abbraccio's crew was not the only set of eyes on the Racine elections. According to the Chicago Tribune, "throngs" of Illinois Republicans traveled over the border to patrol Wisconsin's June 5 recall elections. The Lake County Republican Party of Illinois specifically recruited volunteers to act as poll watchers in Racine, for the express purpose of "help[ing] Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker win his recall election." Rather than disguising their role as poll watchers under the banner of preventing election fraud, the Illinois Republicans made the intent behind their participation clear: "If Wanggaard loses, Walker and the Republicans lose their majority in the Senate."
This group was particularly zealous in meeting their goal. Willard Helander, a Lake County Republican who is also the County Clerk, was the subject of a complaint filed with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) for allegedly "berating" a woman for wearing a Recall Walker button inside the polling station. Election observers can bring concerns to the polling place's chief inspector, but are not supposed to be enforcing the law against politicking within a polling station. Helander justified her actions to the Tribune, telling the newspaper the Wisconsin voter "had a kind of a community-activist demeanor."
Another out-of-state group intervening in the Wisconsin recall vote was the Texas-based "True the Vote," a spinoff of the Houston-based Tea Party group the King Street Patriots. The group stoked unfounded fears of "voter fraud" to justify their electoral intervention, and despite calling themselves "nonpartisan," they called the outcome of the June 5 elections "a victory."
GOP Claimed Voter Fraud Even Before the Election
In the run-up to the June 5 election, GOP leaders began laying the groundwork to cast doubt on any potential Democratic victories.
Despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters faced disenfranchisement under the voter ID law (which was struck down as unconstitutional), Governor Walker claimed to the Weekly Standard in May that "there's no question why they went to court and fought [to undo] voter ID."
"I've always thought in this state, close elections, presidential elections, it means you probably have to win with at least 53 percent of the vote to account for fraud. One or two points, potentially."
On May 30, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus echoed Walker's statements, alleging rampant voter fraud and claiming Republican candidates "need to do a point or two better than where we think we need to be, to overcome it."
For Priebus and Walker to be correct about fraud equaling "one or two points" in recent elections -- where 3 million people cast ballots -- there would need to have been between 30,000 and 60,000 fraudulent ballots.
But as CMD reported, in-depth investigations into election fraud in Wisconsin's 2004 and 2008 elections by Wisconsin's Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen revealed that election fraud occurs at a rate of less than one-thousandths of a percent. Just 7 people were convicted of election fraud in 2004 and only 20 were charged after the 2008 elections. Throughout the course of both elections, only two individuals were charged with committing the kind of in-person "voter fraud" that more restrictive identification requirements might prevent.
Wanggaard Will Fund Recount
On Monday, Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board (GAB) certified Wanggaard's request for a recount. The outcome of the canvass will determine control of the Wisconsin senate.
Because the difference in votes was greater that 0.5%, Wanggaard will have to pay for the recount, rather than the state. The same statutory provision that allowed Walker to accept unlimited contributions during the recall period will also allow Wanggaard to receive unlimited donations to fund his recount expenses.
The county has until July 2 to complete the recount.