DA Won't File Charges in Alleged Voting Irregularities in Recall Election
On the same day the Racine County District Attorney's Office determined it didn't have enough for criminal prosecutions stemming from voter irregularities, the state Government Accountability Board responded to Assembly Republicans about many of the same
No criminal charges will be filed in connection with alleged voting irregularities in the June 5 recall election, the Racine County District Attorney's Office said Friday.
District Attorney Rich Chiapete said his office received four separate complaints and while a complete investigation into the allegations was conducted, the information "did not rise to the level required for a criminal prosecution."
Instead, what was described as fraud can more accurately be described as rule violations and as such, falls under the jurisdiction of the state Government Accountability Board, he said.
"Many of the concerns raised are issues more appropriately dealt with by the GAB and through subsequent action by the legislature," Chiapete wrote in the statement. "Complaints about poll workers, same-day registration procedures and electioneering, can be, but in this case, did not rise to the level of a crime in Wisconsin."
The district attorney is, however, asking the City of Racine clerk's office to identify any ineligible voters or voters who voted more than once and refer those names back to the his office for prosecution.
State responds to lawmakers' concerns
Coinciding with the District Attorney's decision is a letter issued Friday from the GAB to Assembly Republicans addressing officials' concerns about the voting irregularities.
On Wednesday, state Republicans sent a letter asking the agency to look into and propose solutions to a variety of voting issues stemming from the recall election and how it was administered in Racine. The half-dozen officials — including Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester) — asked Kevin Kennedy, director of the GAB, to "restore the trust in our election process."
"The situation in the 21 Senate District is a wakeup call to the state," the Republicans wrote. "We have laws in the books that are not being followed and a recall election that made a mockery of our election system."
While the GAB's response took each concern individually and addressed them accordingly, when it comes to criminal misconduct, the agency asked officials to wait for a determination from the Racine County District Attorney and Racine County Sheriff investigation. Kennedy's letter was sent to media shortly before the Racine County District Attorney's office announced its findings.
Kennedy's response comes on the same day One Wisconsin Now sent out a press release demanding that the district attorney and the sheriff tell voters in the 21st Senate District the results of their investigation into the irregularities.
Specifically, Republicans asked Kennedy and the GAB to look at:
Ballot Bag Tampering
There was evidence of partially opened ballot bags and city officials should have placed new tags on a resealed bags with the process being witnessed and documented to avoid any impropriety. Instead, the opened bags were placed in new bags and then sealed. The GAB says this is not evidence of ballot bag tampering.
"In fact, it is our understanding that the results determined at the recount matched the results of the voting equipment tapes printed by election inspectors when the polls were closed on Election Night," the letter reads. "Unless the recount minutes illustrate other issues related to ballot bags, it appears unlikely that there is evidence of ballot bag tampering indicating fraud on the part of voters or election officials."
Poll Book Issues
While the GAB acknowledges there are missing signatures from poll books, same-day registrants were required to sign their registration form, effectively putting a signature on file. Chalking it up to administrative error, Kennedy wrote, "There is no question that these voters did in-fact exist and that local election officials have a signature for each one."
More, Republicans were concerned that voters who didn't sign the poll books were issued ballots when the procedure is clear about needing a signature in exchange for a ballot. State statutes, though, are clear about not disenfranchising voters because they didn't sign the book.
"Wisconsin Statutes have long recognized that voters who do their part to cast a legal ballot after following the instructions of election inspectors must not be disenfranchised due to an administrative error," Kennedy explained. "There is a long line of court cases upholding that principle. We would certainly expect protests from both voters and candidates if ballots were randomly invalidated due to an election official’s error."
Still, he recognizes the need to emphasize the proper training with municipal clerks and pledges to address this issue for the fall elections.
Alleged Improper Voter Registration
In their letter to the GAB, Republicans asked the agency to be sure local election officials under the proof-of-residency law. Kennedy says in his response that he is well aware of media reports that improper documents were used and accepted to verify residency.
"We can assure you that we will continue to work with local election officials as they process Election Day registrations to identify and reject any voter registrations accepted on Election Day in error," he wrote. "The registration of any voter without proper proof of residence will be cancelled, and they will be required to re-register properly."
But Kennedy says this issue is related in many ways to the missing signature issue and that a voter trying to purposefully deceive the election process is very different from an registrar accepting improper proof of residence.
To address this situation and other challenges, the GAB has appointed a committee - the Fall Election Cycle Strategic Planning Team - to formulate a plan to address both the basics of administering an election and some of the more complicated issues as well.
Alleged Late Processing of Voter Verification Postcards
According to Kennedy's citing of Wisconsin Statute 6.56(3), the 10-day timeframe is non-existent for same-day registrations. That 10-day rule only applies to registrations received via the mail or by Special Registration Deputy.
Election officials have 30 days to enter same-day registrations into the Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS) for most elecitons and 45 days for general elections. Because there was a recount in the 21st District, delays were expected.
"Understandably, a recount necessarily diverts election officials who would normally process these registrations, further delaying the post-election processing of voter registrations," Kennedy explained, but that doesn't mean there's any negligence involved.
But, when those postcards are mailed and if any are returned, those names will be struck from the voter registration record and those voters will be turned over to the district attorney.
The GAB's Role in Local Elections
Kennedy said the question everyone wants answered is really, "What is the GAB going to do about it?" when it comes to issues during elections. In his letter to Republicans, he outlines several steps:
- Review minutes from the recount of the 21st District and make a presentation to the full board at the Aug. 28 meeting that includes outlining the issues and an action plan.
- The Fall Election Cycle Strategic Planning Team is working on a "Back to Basics" workshop; a comprehensive review of legislative changes like signing the poll books so everyone is on the same page; and increasing training opportunities for local officials and chief poll inspectors.
- The GAB is working on a special outreach program for communities having local recall elections on the same day as the Aug. 14 partisan primary.
- Continued monitoring of special situations like Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act compliance, redistricting and any changes or updates with Voter ID.
In the agency's conclusion, Kennedy pushed back a bit, too, saying that just the allegation of fraud without any substantial proof can make voters lose confidence in elections and the officials who administer them.
"I know we agree that elections should be open and transparent and subject to scrutiny and analysis. I hope that, as an elected official, you would also agree that there is little benefit in promoting unsupported allegations questioning the credibility of the election process and the work of local clerks and election inspectors," Kennedy wrote.