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GOP Chair: Madison aims to intimidate poll watchers

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — A new Madison City Council ordinance, ostensibly to “protect election officials from harassment and threats,” is just a vehicle to threaten and intimidate conservative poll watchers, Dane County Republicans say.

Republican Party of Dane County Chairman Scott Grabins tells Empower Wisconsin he’s very concerned the ordinance, which the far left city council unanimously passed Tuesday, will give law-breaking elections officials clearance to violate election observer laws. He fears it will have a chilling effect.

“From my perspective, this was clearly put in place to intimidate poll watchers,” he said. “It’s to make people have second thoughts before they even politely ask or challenge something they might see in a polling location.”

Grabins added the party is investigating its legal options.

The ordinance creates a new penalty for disorderly conduct targeting election officials. Fines for the new category start at $691, about $150 higher than the usual disorderly conduct citation. Violators would pay a maximum $1,000, the same level as standard disorderly conduct.

Under the proposed ordinance, each instance of disorderly conduct would be charged under a separate violation, and if the conduct is repeated or poses a “significant threat,” law enforcement could refer the matter to the district attorney, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway has said the ordinance is necessary because “too many election officials have suffered serious threats and continued harassment just because some people disagree with the results of the last election.”

Rhodes-Conway cited a survey from the far left (Soros funded) Brennan Center for Justice that claims 1 in 6 local election officials nationwide have reported being threatened because of their jobs. Without offering documented evidence, the leftist mayor has claimed Madison election officials have been “subjected to the same reprehensible treatment.”

The victim narrative is missing a few facts. Since the heated 2020 presidential election, there has been a surge of complaints from Republican poll watchers who claim to have been blocked from observing ballot counting, particularly in Wisconsin’s largest Democrat-heavy cities. Using the cover of COVID-19, liberal election officials in Madison, Milwaukee and Dane and Milwaukee Counties, were regularly accused of breaking state law on election observation during Wisconsin’s presidential recount.

As Empower Wisconsin reported in December 2020, Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson confirmed contracted ballot counters fed ballots into machines without observers being able to watch, long after the Board of Canvassers shut down the recount for the night.

And it wasn’t just a few ballots, Christenson conceded to the board.

“There were stacks, and that is not acceptable,” the clerk admitted.

The incident was one of many election integrity issues surrounding the controversial recount.

According to state law, the chief inspector or municipal clerk may restrict the location of any individual exercising the right to observe the election process, but they can’t move observation areas more than 8 feet away from where ballots are being counted or voters are registering to vote.

“The observation areas shall be so positioned to permit any election observer to readily observe all public aspects of the voting process,” the statute states.

When elections officials, often citing COVID concerns, moved poll watchers farther back than what is allowed under law, frustrations rose. Particularly in a state as critical to the electoral count as Wisconsin.

Grabins said Madison’s ordinance will make it harder to recruit poll observers.

“We’re looking for volunteers to fill these roles. It puts us in a difficult spot,” he said, adding that the ordinance is not “well defined as to what ‘intimidation’ is.

“If someone walks over to a poll worker and asks, ‘Did you ask that voter for an ID?,’ is that intimidation?

“It’s intended to intimidate our poll watchers and make it harder for them and freeze them out.”

GOP officials say the party tells its observers to address any issues that come up productively. They don’t expect any problems with their poll watchers on election day. They will be on watch, however, to make sure the ordinance isn’t used “as an excuse to obstruct” observers, and will aggressively protect their rights.

Despite the new challenges, Grabins said it has been a banner year for Republican Party engagement. He estimated 300 volunteers have reached out to the Dane County GOP to help man the polls in next week’s primary and in the huge, looming November midterms. A little under half of those volunteers have been sent to Madison.

Local party officials are charged with submitting lists of poll workers and watchers to elections officials.

Grabins said initially Madison’s vaccine and testing mandate had a chilling effect on recruitment of conservative poll workers, but that has changed.

He said there is an urgency among Republicans in liberal Dane County, which boasts the third-largest population of GOP voters in the state, to stand up for fair and transparent elections.

“They are fired up. We’re seeing a lot of excitement,” Grabins said.

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1 thought on “GOP Chair: Madison aims to intimidate poll watchers

  • The big question is: what exactly will be considered “disorderly conduct” on the part of a poll watcher? Will it be something that actually disrupts the operation of the poll location or will it be something as ambiguous as “they were making me uncomfortable”?

    Anyone that gets cited for violating this new ordinance needs to take it to court and have the prosecutors prove their case with a publicly available record of their arguments.

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