Here in Racine, we’re quite used to tough elections. Over the past 20 years, the 21st Senate District has been one of the most hard-fought districts in the entire state of Wisconsin.
That type of district brings with it rough-and-tumble campaigns, hard-edged tactics and tight margins. When it came to the June 5 recall election, it proved no different.
On election night, we were pleased to discover that our friend John Lehman was victorious over Van Wanggaard. The margin however was thin, and Wanggaard exercised his right to ask for a recount of the entire district, just as we had exercised our right to recall him.
But even before the recount started, Wanggaard and his friends began to speak of “irregularities” and “problems” in the City of Racine. Wanggaard and friends made loud claims of voter fraud, due to same-day registration, lack of voter identification, strange things in the trash and a host of other odd allegations. During the actual recount, hard-working volunteers and Racine County employees labored for countless hours to make sure that every vote was counted and the outcome was fair.
Throughout the recount process, Wanggaard and friends sullied the good names of Racine and Racine County voters. They ran a smear campaign about how “dirty” Racine voters are. Their attempts, however, were in vain, as the Racine County Sheriff’s Office, the Racine County district attorney (appointed by Gov. Walker), as well as the Government Accountability Board, all soundly rejected the allegations of fraud by Wanggaard and his friends.
Now, we all know Wanggaard and his friends didn’t request a recount because they thought it would change the end result; they did it to create a false narrative for the November election, perpetuating the myth of rampant voter fraud in Racine, which they can use to raise money and continue to run smear campaigns against Democratic candidates.
During all of that we remained silent. We remained silent to let Wanggaard exercise his right to request a recount. We remained silent to let the Sheriff’s Office to conduct its investigations. And we remained silent to let the Government Accountability Board determine if there were problems.
We will not remain silent any longer.
Continuing to accuse Racine voters of fraud is beyond offensive to each and every person living in our county. Encouraging people to go digging through dumpsters at polling locations, hoping they discover evidence of voter fraud, is outrageous. And accusing voters of fraud while the head of the Racine County Republican Party’s poll watching program himself may have violated election laws is a disgrace. If you want to see problems with Racine’s voting systems, look no further than the local Republican Party.
To the countless volunteers and workers who facilitated the recount while under near-constant harassment, thank you. To the Racine County voters who restored some credibility to our state government by returning John Lehman to the state Senate, thank you.
And to Wanggaard and friends, thank you. Because of your ridiculous, baseless and now proven false accusations, you’ve shown once more your true intentions and colors. You held a recount hostage to advance your own political agenda of voter intimidation and disenfranchisement. You smeared not only the hard-working election officials but voters across our county. You and your poll watchers showed blatant contempt for the law you claim to uphold.
We hope Wanggaard and his friends learned a lesson for future tough elections: The good name of Racine doesn’t deserve to be dragged through the mud.
Jane Witt is chair of the Democratic Party of Racine County.