After a ramshackle meeting which included testimony by angry poll workers, the Madison Election Advisory Committee recommended rejection of Ald. Zach Brandon's ordinance to ban political operatives from working in city elections. Brandon's proposal would bar campaign officials and other political activists from working in the City Clerk's Office or as poll workers.
After Rosemary Lee, a poll worker for two years, testified that she was "violently opposed" to the ordinance, Brandon joked, "I may need a police escort."
Brandon's ordinance was prompted by concerns that an official with the Teaching Assistants' Association, a political action committee, was a temporary worker in the Clerk's Office, where he handled campaign finance reports.
Several committee members didn't understand why the Clerk's Office reviewed campaign finance reports and helped candidates correct errors in the first place. A city staffer had to explain that the office is obligated to report any potential campaign violations to the district attorney.
Members also peppered the clerk's staff with questions about staffing levels, the oath of office that elected officials take, and who handles ballots.
At one point, Brandon muttered, "I'm shocked how little they know of the process."
Even Lee, noting that the committee is charged with reviewing election law, said, "I'm a little surprised that some people on this committee do not know as much about the election process as I do."
The committee includes Sybil Better, with Dane County's League of Women Voters; Emanuel Scarbrough, who runs a local drug treatment program; Paul Malischke, who has maintained a blog on voting rights in Wisconsin; Marlena Deutsch, of the United Way; Valerie Brown, of Access to Independence; and former Ald. Warren Onken.
Led by Onken, who gently shepherded members through a number of votes, the committee eventually rejected Brandon's proposal. In their report to the city council, the committee will recommend that if a ban does pass, it should not include poll workers and it should require that only full-time staffers at the Clerk's Office handle election matters.
Brandon plans to redraft his bill, which has nine other co-sponsors, in response to the committee's concerns. "The larger question is still, what do you do with poll workers?" he says. "It may be easier to pass an ordinance without poll workers, and ask the committee to spend time on the issue later."
But Brandon dismisses the committee's suggestion that the city clerk simply write a policy addressing the hiring of political operatives as temp workers. "An ordinance is a more legally sound, more effective method of getting it accomplished," he says.