Voter Intimidation a No-Show in Wisconsin

Reports are rolling in of voter suppression tactics slowing voting in swing states around the country.

The nonpartisan Election Protection Coalition has a real-time report and voter help on its web site.

Early reports included:

Voting machines malfunctioning in Florida, creating hours-long lines.

Voters in Pennsylvania being sent away from the polls if they don't have voter I.D.--which is not required to vote in this election. is circulating a petition demanding that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett extend voting hours so that people who were wrongly turned away can come back to vote.

In Ohio, Republican Secretary of State John Husted has stirred national controversy by introducing experimental voting software in this election, and by making last-minute rule changes that could disqualify thousands of voters who make small errors on provisional ballots.

In Wisconsin, a Romney campaign manual leaked to ThinkProgress last week urged election observers to hide their affiliation with the campaign, and falsely claimed that Wisconsin law forbids voting by ex-felons, as well as enumerating restrictive I.D. requirements that are not in effect in Wisconsin.

But in Wisconsin, at least, voter intimidation by True the Vote and other Republican-affiliated election observers has not materialized on Election Day.

Election observers don't seem to be disrupting voting in Wisconsin and turnout is very strong in Milwaukee, says Joe Zepecki, communications director for Organize for America in Wisconsin.

"We've been incredibly busy and the call volume has been incredibly high," says Ann Jacobs, Attorney, Domintz & Skemp, S.C. in Milwaukee, and a member of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. "People who need help are reaching out."

"We've seen tremendous turnout in the morning--especially in Milwaukee," she added.

"We've had the usual difficulties for people in terms of proof of residence. But nothing extraordinary. The observers have been dealt with well by the chief elections officials."

Overall, says Jacobs, "We're delighted that the obstructors’ tactics have not been allowed to thwart the election process."

Stacy Harbaugh of the ACLU in Wisconsin concurs:

"Most problems relate to what we usually see on high-turnout elections: long lines, polling places that need more staff, optical scan machines that break down and need repair," Harbaugh says.

"Most of the questions coming in are about what proof of residence is acceptable and there is a lot of confusion over photo ID. We are getting complaints about observers, but we are generally pleased that polling place chief elections inspectors are maintaining control. When observers are disruptive or obstructing the process, chiefs are addressing it, correcting behavior or in a few cases dismissing observers from polling places."

Republicans in Wisconsin succeeded in curtailing early voting--but in Milwaukee, the early vote count was still 5,000 votes higher than in 2008, when voters had twice as long to get to the polls early.

The photo I.D. requirement was blocked in court.

But new proof of residency requirements could tie up students and voters who make frequent moves (you must show that you've been in your current place of residence for 28 days, or vote at your former polling place.)

"I don't understand why the Romney campaign would bother engaging in illegal voter suppression when, thanks to the elimination of a corroborating witness as proof of residence, municipal clerks and poll workers will be turning away eligible voters for them," says Mike Quieto, a former elections official and former candidate for Dane County clerk in Wisconsin.

Legal residents of Wisconsin who do not have their name on a lease or utility bill, whose bank statements are sent to PO boxes or whose Driver's License still shows an old address will have more difficulty registering at the polls, Quieto explains. Those most likely to be affected are newly 18-year-old high school students, elderly voters who have moved in with their children, or low-income voters "doubled up" with a relative but not on the lease.

Still, for outright voter intimidation and suppression, things look good in Wisconsin today.

If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Tammy Baldwin Gets a Lift from Obama."

Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter

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