MOUNT PLEASANT — Supporters of Republican congressional candidate Paul Nehlen were improperly electioneering too close to polling places Tuesday, according to multiple complaints in Mount Pleasant and elsewhere throughout the 1st Congressional District.
With Nehlen facing House Speaker Paul Ryan in Tuesday’s primary, Nehlen supporters attempted to put signs out and distribute literature within 100 feet of the entrance to polling places, in violation of state statute, Mount Pleasant Village Clerk Stephanie Kohlhagen said.
In one case at Mount Pleasant-Caledonia Memorial Park, 9614 Northwestern Ave., a supporter became argumentative and belligerent with election officials and claimed he received prior “zoning” approval, Kohlhagen said.
Some Nehlen supporters came in from out of state. About 8 a.m., a man was observed outside the polling place at the Mount Pleasant Village Hall, 8811 Campus Drive, posting large “Vote for Nehlen” signs. The man’s car had a Tennessee license plate.
The sign was removed soon after, but the man returned and walked near Village Hall carrying a “Vote for Nehlen” sign, and after he left, another man returned to take his spot. Poll workers determined he was in compliance with state law.
A 19-year-old Texas man, who was flown in by the Nehlen campaign, walked around with a sign at Mount Pleasant Village Hall Tuesday morning. He said he was paid in food and travel, among other things, to walk around with the sign at the polling place Tuesday. The man went to two other locations in Mount Pleasant Tuesday morning.
“This is better than working at a gas station,” the 19-year-old said.
“State law prohibits electioneering on public property within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place,” Reid Magney, spokesman for the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said in an email. “That means no political signs or literature, etc., on public property in that area.”
Mount Pleasant Police Capt. Tom Petersen talked to the Texas teen to explain the 100 foot-rule. Petersen used a measuring stick and cones to mark the 100-foot points from the entrance to the polling place.
“We’re marking it off so he understands what’s 100 feet,” Petersen said. “He cannot come within 100 feet of this door. Nor can he impede with anybody and campaign. You can’t stop people and impede traffic and try to persuade people.”
Mount Pleasant also prohibits placing signs on village property without the village’s permission, Kohlhagen said.
Nehlen campaign spokesman Noel Fritsch said he didn’t know of any of the campaign’s signs being placed on public property without permission. “Everyone should abide by the local jurisdictional authority,” he said.
Fritsch confirmed the campaign brought in people from out of state to help, but said dozens of people from Wisconsin also helped Nehlen’s efforts.
In a separate statement, Fritsch accused “Speaker Ryan’s dwindling network of supporters” of carrying out orders “to prevent Mr. Nehlen and his supporters from carrying their message.”
The state Elections Commission also received Nehlen-related electioneering complaints in Janesville. In Burlington, City Clerk Diahnn C. Halbach reported several Nehlen campaign signs were posted Tuesday morning near a polling place at United Methodist Church, 857 W. State St., and were promptly removed.
There were no further issues after that, Halbach said.
Racine City Clerk Janice Johnson-Martin said the city had received no complaints about Nehlen signs or campaign workers as of mid-afternoon Tuesday.
Stephanie Jones, Andrew Dawson and Mark Feldmann contributed to this report.