By: Brian Sikma
In a battleground state where voter fraud has been an issue in previous presidential elections, one leading county sheriff is saying his office won’t stop ineligible felon voters from casting a ballot. An internal memo from the Dane County Sheriff’s Office instructed deputies and other staff assigned to the county jail to facilitate the absentee ballot requests of inmates. Sent from Lt. Mark Twombly, the memo specifically instructed law enforcement officials to not check on the felony status of inmates and to help everyone vote regardless of their criminal record. In Wisconsin an individual serving jail time for a felony or under parole or supervision for a felony may not cast a ballot.
Checking on whether or not an inmate is a felon would require a quick and simple check of the county law enforcement’s computer system. “It is going to be up to their polling location to research whether they are allowed to vote based on their criminal record, not the DCSO [Dane County Sheriff’s Office],” Twombly wrote in a memo distributed to staff.
The decision by the sheriff’s office to ignore felon status for inmate voters means that law enforcement officials will not be working to prevent further legal violations on the part of those in their custody.
During an in-studio radio interview with a Madison talk show host on Monday, Sheriff Dave Mahoney attacked the whistleblower deputy and the conservative Milwaukee talk show host who blogged about an e-mail the deputy sent him. Mahoney called the whistleblower and talk show host “unethical” and said he couldn’t believe one of his officers would release the internal memo. The sheriff suggested that the deputy acted in an unprofessional fashion.
Mahoney vigorously denied that his office is facilitating possible voter fraud. “Absolutely not, we are not,” he told the radio show host. But by not checking an inmate’s potential felony status, Mahoney is shifting his own responsibility to enforce the law on to municipal clerks. In the aftermath of Wisconsin’s hyper-intense political season of the past 18 months, many local clerks offices are worn down.
When Mahoney does not enforce the law in his own jail it adds a burden to the workloads of strained municipal clerks.
An official with the Madison City Clerk’s office told Media Trackers that it was possible for the office to check a list of those who request absentee ballots against the State Voter Registration Service. The SVRS is run by the Government Accountability Board, which attempts to cross-reference the database with Department of Corrections’ records.
The GAB came under scrutiny lately after it was found that the board, which serves as the top election oversight agency in the state, missed an important federal deadline for mailing absentee ballots to oversees voters, including military personnel from Wisconsin.
According to the Madison Clerk’s office, if a voter is listed as inactive at a particular address the absentee ballot will not be mailed. Newly registered voters who ask for absentee ballots immediately after registering are not immediately a part of the voter database system the clerk’s office said.
Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus told Media Trackers that if a crosscheck of absentee requests against the state voter file turns up an inactive registration, clerks in her area would not send an absentee ballot. This assumes that the state database is always up to date.
In defending his decision to let potential voter fraud slip through, Mahoney said his present policy does not differ from that of previous sheriffs in Dane County. Mahoney has suffered repeated criticism from conservatives for his ongoing unwillingness to enforce the law on liberal protesters who harass and intimidate political opponents and staff in and around the state capitol in downtown Madison.
Dane County is the second most populous county in the state and has the highest proportional percentage of Democratic voters.
Lt. Twombly, the author of the memo prohibiting Sheriff’s Office officials from enforcing state election law, signed a petition to recall Governor Scott Walker from office.
The Dane County Sheriff may insist that his office does not have a role in enforcing election law, but local law enforcement officials around the state have been involved in enforcement efforts before. Earlier this year the Racine County Sheriff’s Department was called upon to investigate allegations of suspect election activities related to the June recall election. During the 2004 presidential campaign the Milwaukee Police Department played an active role in enforcing election laws.