Wisconsin Clerk Refused to Set Up Early Voting Site, Fearing it Would Help Democrats

The city clerk in Green Bay refused to set up an early voting site on a college campus in part because she feared the site would help Democrats, according to emails obtained by a liberal advocacy group.

The emails show City Clerk Kris Teske citing the potential partisan advantage, along with concerns about ballot security, costs and staffing issues, in refusing to establish the early voting site at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus. One Wisconsin Institute provided the emails to The Associated Press on Tuesday, after the Nation first reported about them.

Teske pointed to statutes that prohibit early voting sites that give a political party an advantage. The emails show that state Rep. Eric Genrich, a Green Bay Democrat, was pressing Teske to approve the university voting site, but she refused, saying that people could vote early at City Hall.

"UWGB is a polling location for students and residents on Election Day but I feel by asking for this to be the site for early voting is encouraging the students to vote more than benefiting the city as a whole," Teske wrote in the Aug. 26 email. "I have heard it said that students lean more toward the democrats and he (Genrich) is a democrat ... Do I have an argument about it being more of a benefit to the democrats?" 

Nathan Judnic, an attorney for the state Elections Commission, responded on Sept. 9, saying budget, staffing and ballot security issues are all legitimate factors to consider when setting up early voting sites and she doesn't have to document any reason for choosing sites. 

However, Judnic said he would be "hesitant" to argue that one political party might gain an advantage because of a particular polling location unless she could offer something more than that she'd heard students lean Democratic. He added that the site could be used by everyone in the city, not just students, and since the campus is a polling site on Election Day he can't see any difference in using it for early voting.

Mayor Jim Schmitt appointed Teske to her position in February 2012. Both the mayor and the city clerk are officially nonpartisan. Teske declined comment when reached by The Associated Press, referring a reporter to the statute barring sites that provide a political advantage.

Schmitt's chief of staff, Celestine Jeffreys, issued a news release Tuesday afternoon insisting that Teske was simply trying to follow the law and wasn't out to curtail Democratic votes. The release said the city is looking into setting up other early voting sites for 2017 elections.

Schmitt was charged in September with three campaign finance violations, including making false statements on his finance reports, attempting to accept funds from someone other than the reported contributor and attempt to accept funds in excess of contribution limits. He is expected to enter a guilty plea in December in exchange for no jail time.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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