By LaToya Dennis
October 13, 2010 | WUWM | Milwaukee, WI
With midterm elections less than a month away new billboards are stirring controversy in Milwaukee. One group claims the billboards are nothing more than a scare tactic and wants the person or group behind them identified. Another local organization insists the signs are a good way to call public attention to a problem. WUWM’s LaToya Dennis has more.
The billboards popping up across the city contain images of a few faces behind bars, including a young black male, with the words, “Voter Fraud is a Felony. We voted illegally.” Matt Brusky works with the group, Citizen Action Wisconsin. It wants to know who’s behind the billboards and would like them removed. Brusky says the signs are designed to discourage some people from voting on November 2.
“Obviously the image of an African American male and people behind bars for voter fraud is certainly not intended to try and provide useful information that would help someone understand and encourage people to vote. It’s definitely intended to scare and intimidate folks,” Brusky says.
Brusky says his organization will continue to hold get out the vote drives, to ensure people understand their rights and responsibilities.
“We think the best way to combat this within our organization is to get out and actively engage people as to why it’s important to vote. And we will continue to do that,” Brusky says.
But not everyone views the billboards as negative. Ardis Cerny is with the group, We’re Watching Wisconsin Elections. It’s made up of women from Waukesha County concerned about election fraud. The group formed after a few irregularities were reported in 2008 election. Cerny says while her group is not behind the billboards, she applauds the message. “No, I don’t think it’s a scare tactic at all. I think this is a great educational tool. I think people will think twice if they’re thinking about doing something that isn’t quite right and they find out that this is the actual penalty, you’ve committed a felony,” Cerny says.
Cerny wants Wisconsin to do away with same day registration and require voters to present identification. She believes those steps would help curtail voter fraud, something she thinks is a huge problem across the state. However instances of voter fraud are rare, according to Kevin Kennedy, director of the Government Accountability Board. It oversees elections in Wisconsin.
“We see a lot more rhetoric about voter fraud based on perception, but not really based on any actual facts,” Kennedy says.
Kennedy says he can think of only one reason as to why this perception persists.
“People are using those allegations really to advance policy issues. One big debate we constantly have is the need for photo identification as part of the voting process, and that’s a policy decision,” Kennedy says.
Kennedy says the fact is that since 2006, the government has had an increasing number of tools to catch people who should not be voting. He says the biggest deterrent is to actually charge those people. In order to vote in Wisconsin, you must be a U.S. citizen and at least 18 years old. You must also have resided in your voting district for 10 days. Convicted felons are allowed to vote as long as they have served their sentence and are no longer on probation.
I love that a guy named Kennedy can't imagine why people would be concerned about voter fraud. Maybe we need to find a guy named Nixon to explain it to him.
And, this Brusky character is a piece of work. What is wrong with a sign that says that election fraud is illegal? It is illegal, isn't it? That's sort of like having a sign that says that the sky is blue, or the sun rises in the east.