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Thursday, July 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 77.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Unofficial absentee ballot mailings raise voter intimidation issues in Wisconsin recall elections


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Political groups along both sides of the spectrum have been called into question for distributing misleading information about the dates of Wisconsin's upcoming recall elections -- leading to accusations of voter suppression in one case.

The Wisconsin branch of the conservative political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity has mailed absentee voter applications instructing voters to return the paperwork two days late in at least two recall elections. According to Politico, the mailings were found in Hudson, where Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) faces a challenge from Democrat Shelly Moore, and Kaukauna, where Democrat Nancy Nusbaum is challenging Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Allouez). While the letters were addressed to Americans for Prosperity "members," reports have surfaced that they were sent to people identified as very likely to vote as Democrats, and a complaint has been filed with the Government Accountability Board based on the belief that voters were targeted as such.

Charles E. Shultz of Hudson wrote in his GAB complaint (PDF) against AFP that if he followed the instructions he received, his ballot would not be counted, adding, "I believe I was targeted by this Republican group because I am a Democrat and a senior citizen."

Wisconsin Statute 12.13 states: "No person may personally or through an agent, by any act compel, induce, or prevail upon an elector either to vote or refrain from voting at any election for or against a particular candidate or referendum."

Shultz wrote in his complaint, "I think they personally intend to discount my vote."

Matt Seaholm, state director of Americans for Prosperity, told Daniel Bice at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the false information on the AFP mailings was the result of a typo. He said the mailings were only sent to AFP members, but Bice reiterated that "the fliers were received by 'card-carrying Democrats active in the recalls.'"

In addition to giving voters the wrong deadline to mail their paperwork, the AFP mailings contain envelopes addressed to the "Absentee Ballot Application Processing Center." The address, however, is a P.O. box for Wisconsin Family Action -- a group that describes its mission as "advancing Judeo-Christian principles and values in Wisconsin by strengthening and preserving marriage, family, life and liberty."

Barbara With, a Wisconsin resident, recorded a phone conversation with Wisconsin Family Action Director Julaine Appling. With asked Appling about the the appearance of WFA's address on the AFP mailings.

"We're part of a coalition, and we're doing that," Appling said to With, but later in the conversation, she said she didn't know her group's address had been printed on the envelopes.

"We started getting these ballot applications that AFP had sent out, a few days ago. And actually, today was the first time we saw what actually went out from AFP," Appling said in the conversation with With. "So we hadn't seen the mailing that AFP had sent out, and we didn't know that they were gonna be using our address."

"This is voter suppression in its purest, most vile form," said Kelly Steele, spokesperson for the liberal political advocacy group We Are Wisconsin, in a statement.

The complaints against AFP come on the heels of the group's purchase of $150,000 in TV air time in Green Bay, Madison and Milwaukee.

Across the aisle, the Democratic National Committee has also spread some misinformation, although no GAB complaints have been reported in the incident.

According to an AP story published in the Appleton Post Crescent, the DNC has made phone calls giving the wrong date for the recall election against Sen. Dan Kapanke (R-La Crosse). A poll conducted by Public Policy Polling, commissioned by the liberal blog Daily Kos, showed Kapanke trailing his opponent Rep. Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) by 14 points at the end of June -- the biggest margin in the state. The story from the Post Crescent said that DNC officials were contacted about the erroneous calls and they told Government Accountability Board officials that the calls would stop.

The Government Accountability Board released a statement acknowledging several reports of unofficial absentee ballot applications "potentially causing confusion among voters."

Kevin Kennedy, Wisconsin's chief election officer, said in the statement, "If you rely on an incorrect date on the mailer, you may be too late to vote absentee."

Kennedy encouraged voters to contact their municipal clerks directly to request absentee ballots.

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