Is it just me or have we been in permanent “election mode” in Wisconsin and the nation for longer than I care to remember? The election process is one of the greatest ways to for all of us to exercise the unmatched freedoms we have in America. However, emotions this time around are running very high. Elections can be exhausting in the best of “normal” times – and our times are anything but normal.
This has resulted in bitter polarization along political party lines, undoubtedly one of the greatest polarizations of this sort in our nation’s history. Now, we stand at the threshold of another presidential election and numerous state and local races across the country. With so much at stake, the notion that fraud or bribery could influence the outcome of any race is a matter that needs to be examined with calm and serious focus.
Certainly, I haven’t seen any numbers indicating a big influx of what people might call “voter fraud,” such as people voting more than once or voting with a fraudulent identity, votes being cast by illegal aliens or others using false identity, voting more than once, etc.
Having said that, voter fraud may not be rampant in this country but there are undeniable instances on the public record. Last month, for example, an undercover investigative journalist in Houston exposed the Regional Field Director at Organizing for America (OFA) engaging in election fraud by helping the journalist, posing as a voter, to vote twice, once in Texas and again in Florida. The activity was caught on video tape which you can view here: http://www.theprojectveritas.org/voterfraud1012b The OFA worker was later fired.
This type of incident should make all of us stand up and take notice.
We’ve also seen another type of voting irregularity which involves groups offering inducements to people to have them vote in a certain way or for a particular party and this constitutes election bribery.
Whether there are enough instances of fraud or voting irregularities to sway an election this year, I’m not sure. However, regardless of whether it sways an election, this kind of activity is obviously illegal and is something that needs to be taken seriously and be dealt with in the big picture just like any other crime.
One particular district attorney with whom I’m familiar said he had to investigate a claim of voter fraud involved an elderly woman who had voted early and simply forgot that she had voted with an absentee ballot and voted a second time. These kinds of instances need to be reviewed and dealt with on a case-by-cases basis.
Sometimes an election activity that may seem to be “shady” is truly in the eye of the beholder. For example, giving rides to get voters to the polls or if a voter is offered anything of value in exchange for voting. That becomes a concern. “Hey, come on and have a free lunch on us before you get out and vote.” When this occurs, there is some concern about whether this can be considered election bribery. Is the voter being offered something of value? Or is it merely a case of someone wanting to help make sure that another voter isn’t disenfranchised, prevented from being able to vote. There are other instances on the record where Milwaukee voters were offered cigarettes or a free barbecue in exchange for accepting a ride to the polls and agreeing to vote in a certain way.
My word of caution to our readers is that, if you are offered something of value or in consideration of doing something connected to an election, accepting that item or consideration will raise eyebrows in the district attorney’s office in your particular municipality because they may very well consider this some kind of attempt to influence a vote for a particular person or ideology and, therefore, would fall under the category of election bribery.
Bearing these things in mind as we get set to go to the polls on Nov. 6, Wisconsinites need to be aware of the kinds of activities that our state finds against the law. Here are some of the highlights of the state statutes on this matter:
- Election threats – No person may personally or through an agent make use of or threaten to make use of force, violence or restraint in order to induce or compel any person to vote or refrain from voting at an election. (This includes impeding or preventing the free exercise of the franchise at an election, or voting for or against a particular candidate or referendum.)
- Election bribery – The term “anything of value” includes any amount of money, or any object which has utility independent of any political message it contains and the value of which exceeds $1. This includes offering items of value to go to or refrain from going to the polls, vote or refrain from voting, vote for or refrain from voting for or against a particular person, referendum; receive or accept any money, gift, loan, valuable consideration, office or employment personally or for any other person.
- Election fraud – Violations include voting at any election without having the necessary elector qualifications or meeting the residency requirements; falsely procuring registration or making false statements to the municipal clerk, board of election commissioners or other election officials; impersonating a registered elector or posing as another person in order to vote; voting more than once in the same election; showing his or her marked ballot to any person or placing a mark upon the ballot so it is identifiable as his or her ballot; procuring an official ballot and neglecting or refusing to cast or return it.
Make no mistake – breaking our election laws is serious business. Making election threats is a Class 1 felony with penalties ranging from fines up to $1,000 and up to 6 months in prison or both. Committing election fraud is even more serious with fines up to $10,000 and up to 9 months in prison or both.
Perhaps most importantly this election season, cooler heads need to prevail. Again, there is a deep political polarization running in this state and in this country. But we can’t afford to let bitter feelings give way threats, bribery, fraud or violence. Our state and our country deserve far better.
About Attorney Mark Powers
Attorney Mark Powers is a partner at the criminal defense law firm of Huppertz & Powers, S.C. in Waukesha. Previously, Powers served as an Assistant District Attorney with the Waukesha County District Attorney's office as well as a municipal judge in North Prairie. He currently focuses in the area of criminal defense, and has handled many cases involving operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, domestic disputes, and drug offenses.
Powers attended Valparaiso University School of Law, where he received his Juris Doctorate. Prior to law school, Mark attended the University of Wisconsin, Lacrosse where he received his bachelor of science in Political Science.