Guest blogged by Emily Levy
Two national election integrity organizations jointly conducted exit polling at a pair of poll sites yesterday, during round one of Wisconsin's recall elections. Election Defense Alliance (EDA) and Protect California Ballots teamed up with local activists to poll voters as they exited from voting in now-infamous Waukesha County, with the goal of checking the accuracy of the official election results.
According to a press release (see below) issued yesterday by EDA, despite local volunteer pollsters being equipped with copies of regulations from Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board (G.A.B.), the state's top election authority, and a letter from the agency's Executive Director outlining permission for exit polling, the rules were apparently changed during the day and pollsters forbidden to hand out the exit polling 'ballot' voters were asked to complete anonymously.
EDA National Chairperson Sally Castleman told The BRAD BLOG, "The numerous red flags that came to light in the Wisconsin Supreme Court election this spring alerted many Wisconsinites to the need for citizen oversight in their elections. With official vote counts being conducted secretly inside computers, exit polling is one of the very, very few mechanisms left to the public for assessing the legitimacy of official outcomes." Castleman added, "We need to see this level of public participation all over the nation in order to halt the privatization of our elections."
Full text of press release:
The Wisconsin Government Accounting Board (GAB), apparently changing their regulations as they go along, has effectively shut down citizen-run exit polls in today’s Democratic Primary Recall Election in Wisconsin.
Despite having the GAB Regulations (§§5.35 (5), 7.37 (2) ) in hand plus a letter from Kevin Kennedy, head of the GAB, both clearly allowing exit polling, the GAB today through GAB member David Buerger, has said that the group is “electioneering” because candidates names appear on the polling “ballot.” He further dictated that no voter would be allowed to touch an exit poll ballot, that pollsters can only verbally ask the voters their responses. This despite the fact that Edison-Mitofsky, the polling company commissioned by the Media Consortium to conduct Exit Polling nationally over the last many years, uses written polling ballots that the voters fill in themselves.
The polls were being run by concerned Wisconsin citizens volunteering under the guidance of Election Defense Alliance and Protect California Ballots, two non-partisan organizations with the mission of restoring transparency to our elections. Both organizations have run non-partisan exit polls many times in the past in close to a dozen states. Neither group has ever been harassed in such a way before.
“This is reasoning beyond specious”, said Jonathan Simon, Director of Election Defense Alliance. “Exit polling in this country has been going on for decades. To call it ‘electioneering’ simply because candidates names appear on the poll ballot, when all names appear without any advocacy involved, is absurd. This is concealment in OUR elections. Public participation is being forbidden!”
“If exit polling has now conveniently been relabeled as ‘electioneering’ this spells the end of exit polling in America and one of the last few mechanisms for evaluating the legitimacy of official vote counts,” added Sally Castleman, National Chairperson of Election Defense Alliance.
“The implications for upcoming primary and general recall elections are of the utmost importance” said Simon. “This encroachment on the public right of observation and participation must be challenged forcefully and immediately.”
“The irony of ‘Government Accountability’ is beyond belief,” Simon added.
Despite the fact that the law says a photo ID is requested but not required for this election, reports have been received from Glendale that voters are not being allowed to vote without photo ID.
In another related story, robo-calls, reportedly coming from Virginia, are being made to Democrats throughout the primary districts today telling them not to vote today because an absentee ballot is in the mail.
See Eric Kleefeld's coverage at TalkingPointsMemo for background on the WI recall elections and the announced outcome of yesterday's Democratic primary recall elections. Round two of the recalls will be held next Tuesday, July 19, when two more primaries and one general recall election (two Republican primaries, and one Democratic state Senator facing a recall) will be held.
UPDATE 7/15/11: Reid Magney, spokesperson for Wisconsin's G.A.B., wanted to offer the board's point of view on their ruling which effectively shut down the EDA's exit polling by forcing pollsters to move outside of the 100 ft. zone around the polling place, as the group noted in their press release posted above. His response follows in full below, along with EDA's response to Magney's remarks...
Thanks for getting back to me.
The Government Accountability Board has not changed its rules on exit polling. We are simply enforcing the states laws against electioneering.
The citizens group asked us about exit polling, and we told them it was permitted. What they didn't tell us is how they were going to do their exit polls. From the reports we received, the citizen exit pollsters were handing out papers explaining the exit poll to voters on their way into the polling place. That is not something regular exit pollsters do. We do not permit anyone to give documents to voters on their way in within 100 feet of the polling place entrance.
From the reports we received, after the voters left the polling places, the citizen exit pollsters were handing an exit poll document to the voters. This document looked like a ballot, and contained the names of candidates. Again, this was happening within 100 feet of the polling place entrance. No one is permitted to distribute any literature within 100 feet that contains the names of any candidate on the ballot that day. That is electioneering, and could be confusing to voters. Regular exit pollsters conduct their business by interviewing voters and recording the answers themselves.
When we received complaints about this activity, we contacted the municipal clerks, who contacted the chief election inspectors at the polling places. We also understand that someone, not us, contacted the police in one of the villages. We also contacted the citizens group and told them they could not distribute materials within 100 feet of the polling place entrance. We did not tell them they could not conduct exit polls. If they wanted to hand out exit poll documents, they had to do so outside the 100-foot area. It was our understanding that the group decided to interview voters, or possibly show them the exit poll document on a clipboard, without giving them the document.
The citizen exit poll group has argued that they were not electioneering because they're not trying to influence voters, just conduct a survey. Unfortunately, the way they tried to conduct the exit poll could be misunderstood by a voter as an attempt to influence them, or to intimidate them. The polling place and the 100-foot zone around the entrance are to be free of any activity that could impede or intimidate or influence voters.
Let me add that Wisconsin has a long tradition of openness and transparency in its elections. Citizens are allowed and encouraged to serve as election observers. They can observe the public test of voting equipment prior to the election. They can observe inside the polling place. They can be present after the polls close when the voting equipment is opened and the vote totals are announced. They can view the tape from the machine. They can observe the canvass process.
We understand that some citizens are skeptical about electronic voting equipment. We recently had a recount in the state Supreme Court election. Because there were not enough extra memory devices for some of the older optical scan equipment (Optech Eagle), many of the ballots in 31 of the state's 72 counties that were originally counted by machine were recounted by hand. The differences between the machine count and the hand recount were extremely close, and differences were usually due to other reasons, such as absentee ballots being disallowed because they were improperly witnessed. The results of this real-world test should give voters confidence in the integrity of elections in Wisconsin.
Please let me know if you have other questions,
Reid Magney, public information officer
Wisconsin Government Accountability Board
EDA's Castleman confirmed that, indeed, one of the exit polling sites had copied the polling "ballot" onto the back side of something they were giving voters on the way into the poll, though, she says, other than the "ballot" containing the names of all candidates on the back, there were no candidate names on the front of the sheet.
That did not occur at any other exit polling site, though those pollsters were also required to move outside of the 100 ft. zone around the polling place where exit pollsters are otherwise usually allowed to conduct their polling.
Moreover, Castleman points out, Magney is wrong in his contention that "Regular exit pollsters conduct their business by interviewing voters and recording the answers themselves." While some exit polling is done via interviews of that sort, she says, others are also done similarly to EDA's where voters fill out "ballots" and deposit them secretly into a "ballot box" to help maintain the privacy and integrity of their responses.
[See new update below, as Magney has now conceded he was wrong in his contention concerning written exit polls.]
As to Magney's closing remarks concerning the recent WI Supreme Court election "recount", The BRAD BLOG covered the massive irregularities discovered across the state, most notably in Waukesha County where supposedly secure bags of ballots were discovered to have been "wide open", ripped and duct taped and with missing or changed security seal numbers in many cases, in violation of the secure chain of custody. Also, computer printed poll tapes from e-voting machines were found to have been dated several days prior to the election, or otherwise blank.
During the course of that "recount" --- coming after an unofficial 204 vote margin on Election Night --- well more than 2000 votes were found to have miscounted originally. That, with hand-counts performed, as Magney notes, in just 31 of the state's 72 counties during the "recount".
UPDATE 7/16/11: After being told that Magney was wrong in his contention that "Regular exit pollsters conduct their business by interviewing voters and recording the answers themselves," he wrote back to say:
I think they're done both ways. We've just recently received some information about exit polls being done in writing, so I'm feeling a bit unsure of what I wrote earlier, so you might leave that out. We're going to be talking with EDA soon to discuss future polls so we're all on the same page.
Reid Magney, public information officer
Wisconsin Government Accountability Board
In fact, The BRAD BLOG has confirmed that EDA has been in discussions with the G.A.B., and seem to have worked things out to allow for exit polls in this Tuesday's upcoming recall election (two Republican recall election primaries, and one actual recall election for one Democratic state Senator). We may have more details on that here soon.