Voter Intimidation and Surveillance In Wisconsin

August 6, 2011
By: 
Noise of Rain

Imagine that you are a new voter. Perhaps you aren't too clear on all the rules, the picture I.D. thing, even what you are supposed to do in the voter's booth. But by God, you're going to do it. You are going to become a voter! And you do. You accept a ride to the polls in a van driven by Wisconsin Jobs Now as part of their GOTV campaign in your underrepresented neighborhood. You are not letting the rightwing pundits, politicians and policies silence your voice. You are a Voter!

But wait. Who are those people tailing the van in SUVs? Who is the cat with the video camera, in your face, dogging you inside the City of Milwaukee Election Commission Office as you cast your vote? Who are the people trailing you home?  Intimidating? Just imagine it! You are black. All of these folks following you and talking together while nodding in your direction and pointing at you are white. The folks following your van are white. What are they after? The folks at Wisconsin Jobs Now assure you that they can't do anything of consequence, but then they follow you home. You are a renter. You aren't too sure about your tenant rights, and you certainly don't know any lawyers should problems begin...

This couldn't be happening in "post-racial" America, 2011, could it?

Wisconsin Jobs Now Executive Director Mike Lauer just filed a complain with the Government Accountability Board against Friends of Alberta Darling, We're Watching, and their agents. The complaint (.pdf here)alleges that "Respondents on Auguest 2-4 unlawfully followed, trailed, surveilled and otherwise intimidated and coerced voters from freely exercising the franchise"... while engaging in early absentee voting.

One John Doe photographed and videotaped voters for extended periods of time inside the place of voting. Also, two vehicles "obtrusively followed, trailed, and electronically surveiled a Wisconsin Jobs Now van which was transporting voters." A second vehicle tailed another van and "frequently photographed the van and its passengers."

Section 12.09 of State Law establishes that "No person may personally or through an agent make use of force, violence or restraint in order to induce or compel any person to vote or refrain from voting at an election; or by abduction, duress or any fraudulent device or contrivance, impede or prevent the free exercise of the franchise at an election..."

Sensitive to claims of racism, Republicans often are quick to criticize the "playing of the race card." However, disenfranchisement laws that disproportionately affect African Americans, and such overt tactics of intimidation directed at them when they do vote suggest willful and overt racism.

It also indicates their desperation. Over 600 new voters voted early this last week. About 1200 people signed pledges that they will vote on Tuesday. Energy is up in these African American wards. Today, while canvassing in one neighborhood, my calls to "vote next Tuesday" were often greeted by "I voted early!" This "ground game" is now in place, and will be followed through for November's Walker recall, and for future elections.

"I voted: I am a Voter!" Now that is sweet music to our ears.