By: Brian Sikma
Before the June 5 recall election, and even before the May 8 recall election primary, Racine Mayor John Dickert was scheming for ways to prevent election observers from being present for elections in Racine, e-mails from the Mayor’s office reveal. Dickert insisted in an e-mail to City Clerk Janice Johnson-Martin dated April 25 that the Clerk’s office needed to try and find a way to prevent poll watchers from observing elections. Alleging that the observers only “intimidate people,” Dickert wrote, “The way I look at, if u [sic] are not there vote – leave.”
Poll watchers are individuals who, under Wisconsin state law, may observe activities at a polling place and if they see a violation of state election law may file a challenge or complaint with the polling location’s chief election inspector. As a statutorily created and protected position, election observers may not be pre-emptively barred from the election process by local officials such as mayors or city clerks. Responding to Dickert’s e-mail, Clerk Janice Johnson-Martin commented, “We can call the police and have them removed” if the observers talk to voters less than 100 feet from the polling place.
Other e-mails found in Dickert’s official inbox include subscription e-mails from leftwing groups including Democratic Municipal Officials, a nationwide municipal government organization led in part by Big Labor.
Dickert’s concern about intimidation at the polls was born out, though as it happens it wasn’t Wisconsin poll observers who were intimidating people. A man identified as Jameel Ghuari threatened and intimidated a poll watcher at the Festival Hall polling place in Racine. Ghuari, who reportedly works to turn out Democrat-leaning voters during elections, exploded at a poll observer who standing in the polling place saying, “I’m gonna smash your head into a wall.” Police were called to the scene. The observer told police Ghuari also told her, “This is a boxing match, next round you are gonna be knocked out.”
Ghuari later dismissed his actions telling police “it was a joke” and that he didn’t mean anything he said. However, the female poll watcher said she felt “very threatened.”
A similar incident was reported in Beloit where four men in union shirts surrounded and harassed a female poll worker around 10:30 am at the Beloit Library polling place. Later in the day, five union-shirt clad men arrived – two of them had been there in the morning – and proceeded to harass the poll observer some more.
Questionable and irregular election activities that took place in the City of Racine on election day point to the important role that poll observers on both sides of the political aisle can play. Damaged, torn and potentially tampered ballot bags that compromised ballot security at the end of election day are at the heart of a finger-pointing blame game led City Clerk Johnson-Martin. The MacIver Institute has repeatedly noted that poll workers in the field have testified under oath that the bags, which have never had a problem being damaged in previous elections, were not damaged at polling locations. It was not until the bags arrived at the Clerk’s office that the damage was discovered or encountered. For their part, the Clerk’s office has repeatedly had no comment on the matter or has blamed individual poll workers for the damaged bags.
Media Trackers released information last week showing that City Clerk Johnson-Martin signed 23 incomplete voter registration forms while registering voters to vote in the recall election. Johnson-Martin says she has her own way of filling out the forms, but the Government Accountability Board has issued a statement saying that the boxes not filled out by the Clerk actually do need to be completed.
“The election official must view the proof of residence and record the type and any unique number on the bottom of the Voter Registration Application,” says a GAB memo from August 3 reminding election workers of their responsibilities.
PDF of Racine Police report on poll observer intimidation: Festival Hall UMCC
Summary of dispatch call regarding a Beloit poll observer intimidation incident: 605 eclipse