Depending on what news you follow, there were either major problems in yesterday’s Wisconsin primary, which Mitt Romney won with 43 percent of the voter, or there weren’t. Despite reports of "almost no issues," we have learned that voters were asked for IDs, and that there were problems with absentee ballots. Yesterday, there was confusion about whether a strict photo voter ID law would be implemented, especially since voters had already been mandated to bring photo ID to the polls in a local election a month earlier. Since then, two county judges placed injunctions on the law in separate cases involving the NAACP and the League of Women Voters. Voters were not supposed to be asked for photo IDs yesterday to vote, but the state election officials told poll workers to be prepared to ask for IDs just in case a supreme court judge overturned the two injunctions.
That didn’t happen, but it appears some voters were asked for their ID anyway. Despite a local Fox TV news report that there were "no issues" with IDs, Amanda Terkel over at Huffington Post followed up on a report out of Fitchburg, Wisc. where voters apparently were asked for their ID to vote, though the Government Accountability Board, which overseas elections in the state would offer few details about it.
A separate report found that an 87-year-old woman lost her chance to vote when she was asked for her ID but did not have one. There with her 63-year-old daughter, the woman was asked to step outside the line while poll workers figured out what to do with her. Here’s what happened according to a report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
"By then there were people in the line behind us, we were totally embarrassed," and there was no place for her elderly mother to sit. "So we just left," the woman said.
She called the voter help line at the Government Accountability Board and was told to go back and vote and call if they had any more trouble. The state worker also called the city clerk’s office to explain the situation, Kennedy said.
The daughter returned to an apologetic poll worker and voted shortly before 8 p.m. But by then, she said, her mother was in her nightgown and getting ready for bed.
"I’m just upset," she said. "It shouldn’t have happened."
That’s how voter suppression happens, folks.
As I blogged yesterday, the Department of Justice was on hand in Milwaukee to oversee elections, in part to supervise the administration of Spanish language election materials, but also probably, in part, to make sure confusion there didn’t add up to minorities being disenfranchised.
A spokesperson from DOJ’s office of public affairs told me that they "couldn’t comment further at this time," when asked about the fuller context of why they needed to monitor Milwaukee’s elections and if it had anything to do with confusion around the voter ID law. I was referred to their info page on DOJ’s election monitoring program, which states that Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act allows for federal observers to come to polling places to make sure there is compliance. It also says:
In some instances there are concerns about racial discrimination in the voting process; other times monitoring is done to ensure compliance with bilingual election procedures. … Finally, the Department may have information indicating potential violations of other federal voting laws. Under these circumstances, one or more attorneys may be assigned to monitor the election and maintain contact with state and local officials.
I asked the DOJ spokesperson if any problems with yesterday’s elections were reported, but haven’t heard back yet. Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board has said that the only problems reported to them concerned the voters asked for ID in Fitchburg.
But there were problems with absentee ballots. Over 900 absentee ballots mailed in were unreadable to vote-counting machines, causing poll workers to have to copy the absentee ballot information onto new ballots that were readable for the machines. This snafu obviously opens up human error vulnerability for almost a thousand voters — if a poll worker mistakenly (or purposely) copies information inaccurately, then that could lead to a wasted vote. This happened despite an agreement between DOJ and the state around 200 mail-in ballots that Wisconsin failed to send to military and overseas voters in time for those voters to have them submitted back in time for yesterday’s primary. Under that agreement, the state was to send out the ballots and make sure that each of them was counted when sent back.
Between the 900 faulty absentee ballots [Hat tip to the League of Young Voters for alerting us about this], and the 200 the state was forced to send out to military members, that’s 1100 possible issues — not counting those asked for ID yesterday — that local reporters should be following up on.