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Politics blog: Liberal group accuses conservatives of a voter suppression plot

September 20, 2010 9:10 pm  • 

A liberal group is accusing conservative organizations in Wisconsin of conspiring to prevent minorities and college students from voting.

Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, said tea party groups and the state Republican Party has been planning what could be an illegal effort to block people at the polls.

Ross said One Wisconsin Now had obtained evidence of the plot, providing audio recordings from a June meeting in which Tim Dake of Wisconsin GrandSons of Liberty talked about sending mailings to potential voters. The recordings indicate that group was working with the state Republican Party and another organization, Americans for Prosperity, and planned to send mail to addresses on voter rolls and use any mail that is returned to challenge voters' registrations. The practice is known as "voter caging."

"How far does the web go?" Ross asked, indicating the effort may reach beyond Wisconsin.

He said One Wisconsin Now would be filing formal requests for investigation with the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Government Accountability Board and the Wisconsin Attorney General's election integrity task force. But he wouldn't say how he obtained the recordings.

Dake confirmed that tea party members had been at a coalition leadership meeting in Marshfield on June 12. And he said AFP had been planning on sending out mailings to confirm people are "legitimate voters."

But he said they were interested in preventing voter fraud, not keeping legitimate voters from the polls.

"No, it wasn't targeting anyone," Dake said. "I don't know how you could tell these were minorities or students."

Ross said the effort suggests tea party groups, who've said they operate independently of political parties, are actually colluding with the Republican Party to influence elections.

Mark Jefferson, executive director of the state Republican Party, said the GOP had never gone ahead with any of the mailing plans Dake described in the recording.

Mark Block of Americans for Prosperity denied involvement to the Wisconsin State Journal, and said he didn't think he was in town on June 12.

"I've never had a conversation of that sort with anybody," Block said.

But he told Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he had discussions with Dake and others about targeting voter fraud. He reportedly told that newspaper his group had sent 500 letters to voters asking them to join the organization, with the purpose of seeing whether or not the letters could be delivered.

But a returned letter is not enough to actually keep anyone from voting.

Reid Magney, a spokesman for the Government Accountability Board, said the valid reasons for challenging a voter include: the person is not a citizen of the United States, the person is not at least 18 years old, the person hasn't lived in the district for at least 10 days, the person has a felony conviction and has not had voting rights restored, the person has been found to be incompetent, or the person had previously voted in the same election.

"Failure to return a phone call or respond to a post card is not evidence that the person is not qualified to vote," Magney said.

Republicans have gotten in trouble for voter caging in the past, said Wendy Weiser, an attorney with New York University's Brennan Center for Justice.

"Caging is an unreliable practice and should not be allowed," she said.

Weiser said there are numerous reasons that mail could be returned, citing soldiers being deployed overseas or apartments with poorly labeled mailboxes.

Weiser said voter caging "ends up creating a lot of fear and confusion on election day."