As Billboards Pop Up In Wisconsin, Tea Party And GOP Accused Of Voter Suppression

September 23, 2010 9:10 a.m.

The Wisconsin Republican Party claims to have shelved an elaborate plan to coordinate with other conservative groups to root out purported voter fraud in the state’s upcoming election.

The original plan, which was revealed in a document obtained and made public by a progressive group in the state, would have designated Tea Party groups as investigators in the field looking for fraudulent registrations — looking through the white pages to authenticate voter addresses, pulling up homes on Google Maps and even driving by houses and apartments to conduct visual checks.

Under an earlier draft of the plan, Tea Party volunteers would then send complete reports to a Wisconsin GOP official, and were instructed to delete all copies of the data and required to sign a confidentiality notice.The Wisconsin GOP confirmed to Talking Points Memo that documents released by One Wisconsin Now this week outlining a coordinated campaign between the party, a Tea Party group and the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity to address the organizations’ fear of voter fraud originated from his office. But a spokesman said the initiative has since been scrapped and the groups have no plans to work together.

The head of the state chapter of AFP maintained his group was never associated with any coordinated voter fraud effort, despite documents to the contrary indicating they were planning mail out postcards intended to clean up voter registration lists, promote a tool to check on a voter’s status and to purchase billboards featuring anti-voter fraud messages.

Now a number of billboards which say they are funded by “A Private Family Foundation” have popped up around the state that feature the slogan “VOTER FRAUD is a FELONY!” and feature images of two women of indeterminate race and an African-American man behind bars. The billboards warns Wisconsin residents they could be subjected to up to three years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

One such billboard, pictured in photographs provided to Talking Points Memo, is located along Interstate 1-94 near Ixonia, which sits between Milwaukee and Madison. There are reports of the same billboard popping up all over Milwaukee, said a One Wisconsin Now representative.

Officials coordinating what they say is an anti-voter fraud effort — which would have a disparate impact on minorities and students unlikely to vote Republican –say they don’t know anything about the billboards. Documents indicated organizers considered featuring messages like “Did your deceased uncle vote in 2008?” on the billboards, according to the documents posted on One Wisconsin Now’s website.

As TPM has reported, the issue of voter fraud has been ginned up by Tea Party activists this year despite evidence the problem is much smaller than conservatives contend and that anti-voter fraud efforts can clamp down on legitimate voting. AFP’s Dick Armey has raised the issue of voter fraud, as have Tea Party groups around the country. A self-described ACORN whistleblower has appeared at conservative conventions from D.C. to the suburbs of Chicago. Meanwhile, elections watchdogs have said they want to make sure poll watchers trained by Tea Party groups are clear on election laws.

Scott Ross of One Wisconsin Now told TPMMuckraker that the groups were “in bed with the Republican Party, and the Republican Party wants to suppress the vote in inner city wards and on college campuses and they’ve been doing this for far longer than I’ve been alive.”

Andrew Welhouse, a spokesman for the Wisconsin GOP, confirmed to TPMMuckraker that the documents originated from his office, but said they were outdated and the plan had since been scrapped.

“That plan isn’t taking place,” Welhouse said. “We’ve got things on our own as the Republican Party separate from the Tea Party that we do to try to make sure that people are voting according to the laws of the state.”

While acknowledging that the state GOP had an independent anti-voter fraud effort, he said it was operating without help from AFP or Tea Party groups.

“We share information with individuals, with volunteers, with people who come to us and say we want to help,” Welhouse said.

“One Wisconsin Now was trying to prove, by showing that these documents were from us, is that there’s this coordinated plot underway to suppress the vote, and that’s not the case,” Welhouse said. “We abide by the mantra that we want to make it easier to vote, but harder to cheat.”

Americans for Prosperity in Wisconsin has no plans to participate in any voter fraud program, AFP-WI Chair Mark Block told TPMMuckraker. He said he had no part in the plan originally outlined in the documents and discussed at at Tea Party meeting in June in Marshfield, WI.

“I think the aggressive prosecution of those individuals involved in past cycles has lead to groups like ACORN not to be involved in Wisconsin,” AFP-WI’s Block said.

Tim Dake of GrandSons of Liberty, a tea party organization, had said at at meeting over the summer that AFP “is willing to fund doing a mass mailing to registered voters on this, about getting them involved with this, making sure that their information is current, because people periodically need to go back and check,” according to audio provided by One Wisconsin Now. But ATP-WI’s Block told TPMMuckraker that Dake did not speak for him.

As a national organization, Americans For Prosperity is not conducting a national effort to prevent voter fraud, said spokeswoman Mary Ellen Burke.

“No, it’s not something that AFP is focusing on nationally. I think it was state specific, and we do allow our state chapters to focus on issues that are specifically important to their state,” Burke told TPM earlier Wednesday.

Late Update: One Wisconsin Now’s Ross tells TPM that the e-mails the group obtained were sent by Dake of GrandSons of Liberty last Thursday. A copy of those e-mails can be viewed here (PDF). Dake has since issued a “revised” version of their “Election Observer Program” which he said dated back to Aug. 22, which can be viewed here (PDF).

Photos of one billboard in Wisconsin, provided to TPMuckraker by One Wisconsin Now.

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