Accounts of recall voter intimidation, voter confusion, and voter harassment in Racine, Wisconsin


The Wisconsin Republisphere seems to be doing all it can do to discredit the election of State Senator John Lehman – the one Democratic Party winner from June 5th. To help justify the recount* ordered by Van Wanggaard, the GOP is laying down stories like bread crumbs, leading a compliant media and audience to focus on alleged “fraud”, especially in Racine.**

There is the bag of mysterious “election materials” found at Racine’s Cesar Chavez Community Center currently under investigation by Racine County Sheriff Schmaling. Schmaling’s Republican affiliation sends up a red flag for some while a long-time Dem. I know from Racine asserts that Schmaling is a fair man.

There is the interview that ALEC and GOP member Rep. Robin Vos delivered on Mike Gousha’s show to say fraud contributed to the Lehman win. So far no mainstream press has clarified for the ignorant that fraud requires intent, which must be proven. [interview video]

There is the MacIver article dramatizing the possibility that as many as 78 of the 189 City of Racine poll workers signed the recall. If MacIver is onto something that means 41% of Racine poll workers signed which is a smidge over the general electorate rate of 37%.***

Meanwhile I don’t see the press erupting in concern over intimidation, voter confusion, and voter harassment in Racine. Were they ignoring tweets and facebook updates back on June 5 and in the days following?

I talked to a couple of Racine voters who witnessed difficulty accessing the vote. Perhaps after they’ve read this post, more voters will emerge to tell their stories.

Bullying Republican Observers: “They’re letting these lawyers have run of the place”

I spoke with a man I’ll call J. first online and then on the phone [He requested that I keep his anonymity for this blog post] On June 5 he shuttled voters from their homes to polling places in Racine. It was the first time he’d ever done this and he did so as a non-partisan volunteer. He told me he witnessed intimidation, harassment, and grabbing of personal documents on the part of Republican observers. Additionally, he arrived 15 minutes after at least 10 voters were locked out of the Martin Luther King center polling station. Bystanders told him about that lock-out incident — he did not see it first-hand.

J. is an almost life-long resident of Racine and an independent voter. Before the last 2 years he has “just voted and that was it. I never thought– It never occurred to me that people would be treated differently at different polling stations. Because I always just went to my own polling station in the white neighborhood with all the old people and the neighbors. You just walked in gave your name… the whole thing took 5 minutes.”

He emphasized that on June 5 he really was a non-partisan volunteer, “You don’t tell them how to vote. You don’t ask how they voted. I’d bring them in and I’d go stand to the side and wait.”

J.: “What happened is the lawyers came in and it was sooo busy. They had a bigger turn-out [in Racine] than they had when Obama ran for President. We had 78.4% turn-out which is about as close in Racine as you’re going to get to a full turnout.”

J. mentioned the Festival Hall polling place as particularly overrun with Republican observers: “..they [Republican observers] were all over the place. They were behind the tables, they were patrolling out by the lines, hassling people in lines, they were hassling ME while I was standing off inconspicuously by the side. The polling places in Racine are pretty big.They’re in gyms and community centers. There’s a lot of room.”

I asked J. how he knew the aggressive observers he saw were Republicans:
“Oh, they had little stickers on that said “poll watcher” or something like that -they all had the same sticker on – which I believe they got from the polling place. But most of the Democrats I know or recognize or they would talk to me. These are people I’ve never seen before and they were dressed way beyond the way we dress in Racine [J. laughed]” I said, “Like wearing suits?” They were wearing suits or the women were wearing pants suits. They had expensive haircuts. They do not look like people from Racine.”

I asked if I would be safe in assuming the GOP observers were all white? He replied “All white people.”

J. said,”They weren’t doing this at places where there were all white people in line.”

I pressed J. to let me know how many places he went to where there were all white people in line vs. non-white. He said he went to one poll location where he saw primarily white people and at that location, “They [Republican observers] were there but they weren’t up in people’s faces.” He said he shuttled voters to 5 or 6 polling locations in total on June 5.

[According to U.S. Census data, 2010, 74.4% of Racine’s population is non-Hispanic white. The state average is 83.3% Does this have something to do with the old district map including Racine, annnnd the new one excluding it? FYI:The recall election used the older map.]

He described a much more low-key Republican observer from the area – the former head of the Racine County Party – who he talked to casually as he explained some of the rules to J. In contrast to the out-of-town observersz, J. said, the local Republican was hanging back and “just watching”.

Grabbing Documents

J.”You had two tables. The table to go to vote where they look you up in the book if you’re already registered and then the registration table. They registered an unbelievable number of people. It was constant.. They only had two people sitting at each table at each place. They never expected this many people would turn out. So that’s where the lawyers hovered was at the registration tables. That was their target for stopping voters. So then at some places they were sitting between the two people [poll workers]. At other places they were standing behind them hovering. Then they would start challenging stuff. But instead of saying “I challenge” they would reach in and start handling the documents themselves — handling people’s private documents.”

J. said that the Republican observers seemed to work in pairs. He saw one pair move from Festival Hall and then to MLK Center.

I asked J. if anybody might have videotaped the activity he would consider harassing. He said he did not think so and that there were signs up that said it would be illegal to have a cell phone or take pictures in the polling place.

Why Didn’t Poll Workers Stop It?

I asked J. why poll workers didn’t reign in the observer-lawyers. “The people they do find to work the polls are often retired people who are rather timid who have only had a certain amount of training and some of them are not the sharpest people and they are easily intimidated.’d think they’d [chief inspectors at polls] would have the authority to throw people out but they weren’t. They let those people run the place. And at Festival Hall in Racine, the woman running that place – she was the person checking all my recall signatures I turned in week after week. So she’s a total Democratic Party person but she was letting those Republicans walk all over her…The city was not in control of their polling places. I told that to the city attorney. ..he said they were going to have a meeting about it. I did not see ALL the polling places but I saw some and those Republicans were pretty aggressive.”

At one location J. struck up a conversation about voting with another man as they stood at a bus stop and a Republican observer came over and said he couldn’t talk to him.


When I first ran into news about a complaint made against an Illinois county clerk named Willard Helander harassing a voter in Racine I was shocked. Why would a clerk from Illinois be up here harassing somebody?

In the Illinois posts I could find about Helander, [Wisconsin posts were scant when I looked] Helander said she isn’t worried about the complaint made against her and “I’m very respectful of voters,”.

From Daily Herald, “Helander said the woman was wearing a political button, or sticker, inside the polling place. Electioneering items like that are not allowed at voting booths in Wisconsin, Helander said, and she said something to the woman, who became upset.

Helander later learned the rule against political buttons isn’t enforced.

The woman who made the formal complaint against Helander, Nicala Aiello, was certain that the “Recall Walker” button she wore to the polls June 5 was not against policy or law because she’s never been confronted on political buttons in the past and she’s been an active voter and get out the vote volunteer. When I spoke to Nicala by phone she strongly asserted that in her capacity as an observer Helander should not have talked to her at all.

In fact, in a Journal Times story, Helander agrees:
“I shouldn’t have said a word to her,” she said.”

As Nekola tells it, she saw the people working the polls that she’s seen for years. She felt confidant that she was not in error with her button. She told Helander that she was not supposed to talk to voters. She cast her ballot while hearing Helander pressure the chief inspector of the ward. The chief inspector asked Nekola to remove the button and Nekola denied that she had to take off the button. Then Nekola walked across the room to deposit her ballot in the machine and as she did so, she was followed very closely by Helander who said “Excuse me ma’am” at least four times. Nekola told me it was her strong feeling that Helander was going to try and take her ballot.

Confused Poll Workers Sent Voters to Multiple Sites

When Nekola was done casting her own vote and walking home, she paused to talk to some people a block away who were sitting outside. She asked whether they voted that day.

A woman responded – I’ll call her C. – that she had tried to vote for the 1st time in her life on June 5. She went to the location Nekola went to, and was told to go to a 2nd location. C. went to the 2nd location where poll workers told her she was in the wrong location and she was directed to return to the 1st location. Because C. has difficulty breathing and can not walk 1/2 block without losing her breath, she went straight home to rest and didn’t try to vote again.

Nekola was determined to help C. vote when she heard C’s story. Nekola waited with C. until another friend was returning from work so he could give her a ride. While they waited, a canvasser came by. Nekola and C. shared the whole saga of attempting to vote and the canvasser said the same thing happened to another person down the block. When C. and Nekola finally returned to the voting place, C. walked up to the poll worker, said that she was at the right place to vote, and she explained the runaround she had gotten. All of the poll workers were very apologetic and kind, according to Nekola. C. said that none of the poll workers were the same people working there in the morning when C. was told to go elsewhere. After finally getting registered and getting her ballot, C. asked for Nekola to assist her with understanding how to fill it out and C. asked the workers if it was OK for Nekola to talk to her about it and they affirmed it was fine. Nekola said she said nothing about whom to vote for – only how it’s done. The ballot was cast. C. and Nekola were about to leave and a poll worker asked Nekola to sign an incident log because of the assistance Nekola gave. When Nekola asked ‘Why?’ the poll worker pointed to Willard Helander and said, “I don’t know why but that lady over there said you had to.” Nekola didn’t feel trusting of Helander after the morning’s run-in so she wrote a note but not her name. As Nekola and C. went back to a car to drive away, Helander followed, went to the back of the car, and “conspicuously was writing down the car’s license plate number” according to Nekola.

Nekola said: “That’s intimidation”.

Polling Place Literally Locked Out 10 Voters

J. did not see voters in line locked out of Martin Luther King center in Racine first hand but came along 15 minutes after it happened and heard all about it from a man locked outside. J. said that a city employee locked people out. J. said the employee could’ve asked the 10 people extended out the door to bring their line inside the roomy location, as he’s seen it done before at poll closing time, 8PM. By law in Wisconsin, if voters are in line to vote at 8PM, they have the right to vote.

J. says Racine’s Mayor John Dickert was there at that time and he would very likely have witnessed the lock-out.

Further reading and resources:
Racine Voter Suppressor Turns Out To Be Illinois County Clerk – Root River Siren

“Voter Irregularity” Investigation in Racine being led by Walker appointees, GOP machine – Badger Democracy

State Bar opposes bill to repeal data collection regarding racial profiling – Sheriff Schmaling testified in favor of repealing the racial data collection law.

Racine County Sheriff’s Web Site

Unemployment Data

Racine Uncovered -Local Racine Blog

Wisconsin election complaint has Illinois connection
Voter says poll observer — the Lake County clerk — berated her for wearing ‘Recall Walker’ button

Turnout ranges from 75 to 90 percent in Racine County municipalities

*The same way that Kurt Wainscott of WISN planted the 80 signatures story.

**On The Recount Process: According to Journal Times: “Members of the canvassing board will review each ballot one by one as representatives from both campaigns watch.

They’ll check to see how the ballot was marked, whether the voter’s intent was clear and whether the ballot was properly initialed by poll workers, said Reid Magney, a spokesman for the Government Accountability Board. The parties will have an opportunity to object, and the canvassing board will make a final determination, he said.

According to the GAB’s order, the Racine County Board of Canvassers will begin the recount Wednesday at 9 a.m. The board must finish by July 2, and each campaign will then have until July 10 to appeal.”

***G.A.B. said that 931,053 signatures to recall Walker were submitted on January 17, 2012. 2,511,585 voted in the 2012 gubernatorial election [source] Thus a number equalling 37% of Wisconsin’s electorate signed the recall petition against Walker. Note that a recall signer did not have to be registered to vote but eligible to register to vote at election time. In fact Dem. organizers have repeatedly said that 1 in 5 of the recall signers were not registered to vote.


  6 comments for “Accounts of recall voter intimidation, voter confusion, and voter harassment in Racine, Wisconsin

  1. Todd Endres
    June 26, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Carol, this was a very informing article. I just can’t believe the crap that goes on in certain areas like Racine…thanks so much …

  2. Gary
    June 23, 2012 at 6:50 am

    There has been a real, secretive. plan in place for over 40+ YEARS to control AMERICA by the 1% Filthy-RICH~ They simply have so much money, they can ‘buy anything they want’ if it works. And they do. ~You left out the most severe & CRIMINAL on your LIST. Their deliberate efforts in RIGGING our Nation’s ELECTIONS~Everywhere! So, WHY aren’t these GREEDY, Selfish, RIGHT-Wing/NUTJobs in JAIL yet? Because ‘they’ have been busy BUILDING their OLIGARCHY & have control over the rest of us. They just keep tightening their grip. If you want to ‘not think that’s possible’, well you should dig in and read some facts and history before you discard it. The 99% of the rest of America is nearly at the ‘end of the rope’. ~ RIGGED ELECTION FRAUD is everywhere~ Creates the POWERFUL to Claim & Seize an OLIGARCHY. That’s exactly where we are at now, AMERICA! We have a FAKE Democracy for our ‘Grand-KIDS’, Isn’t that nice?

  3. MO
    June 21, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    This is nothing but a racist dog whistle to Republicans. “Voter fraud” in plain English means “Not-white people were allowed to vote! We must put a stop to this outrageous behavior!”

  4. Linea Sundstrom
    June 21, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    First, thanks for doing this important work. Second, did you report the T-shirt incident? The GAB manual says election observers cannot “3. Wear clothing or buttons related to candidates, parties or referenda.” It is so important to get the GAB to weigh in on something like this! “Help America Vote” is acceptable, but “You Have a Right to Vote” is not? Nothing on your shirt, as you describe it, was related to a candidate, party, or referendum. I know “BE NICE” is the Midwest mantra, but one reason the left gets steamrollered in Wisconsin is because we don’t question authority. I’m going to contact GAB for advice on this so it doesn’t happen again in August and November. Thanks for bringing it up in your post: information is power.

  5. Patricia K Hammel
    June 20, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    I was a poll worker in West Milwaukee on June 5 but previously was an observer (for Election Protection, a non-partisan organization) in Racine in 2004 and 2008. The polling place in Milwaukee was under the supervision of a friend of mine who is an attorney (I’m also an attorney who agreed to help out)and she lives a few blocks from the polling place. Everything went smoothly there but there was only one Democrat and one Republican observer for part of the day only. As a non resident of Milwaukee even I could not touch any election materials even though I was working for the city there. I directed people to the proper ward and made sure they had acceptable proof of residence to register (over 300 people registered there). My experience in Racine in 2004 was more like what is described here. A bunch of beefy white guys in orange “Help America Vote Act” t shirts leaning over the poll workers, guys (Repub.) and women (Dem.) in suits, the women from Chicago; the guys from who knows where jawboning the elderly Black woman who had been running that polling location for 30 years and never had seen the likes of this. I had the materials from Election Protection with all the state laws on registration, proof of residence, provisional ballots etc. (other people inc. some of the poll workers didn’t seem as well trained, which is a chronic problem in many locations). We had black tshirts with “You Have the Right to Vote” printed on the front. The back had a list of the member groups of Election Protection (NAACP, ACLU and those nasty unions) and the 800 number for people to call to report problems. There was a concerted effort to make us take the tshirts off and we finally were told by the Racine clerk to turn them inside out in the afternoon (in Milwaukee June 5 we said nothing to anyone about buttons; one poll worker complained about a guy wearing a “Stand With Wisconsin” tshirt and he replied “But it’s from my union!” and everyone else seemed to think he was entitled to wear his shirt). But the experience in Racine from 2004 would bear out what is reported here. The poll observers also complained that we were assisting voters. That was also a high turnout and close election. I don’t think they bothered with 2008 because the outcome wasn’t going to be close. But the poll chief should not have tolerated behavior like that reported here.

    • June 21, 2012 at 12:13 am

      Thanks very much for the detailed comment.

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