MADISON — Robocall errors and targeted mailing typos are beginning to litter Wisconsin’s recall campaign landscape in the closing days of the race.
While Democrats and Republicans say they’ve made innocent mistakes in reaching out to the electorate, some fear democracy could pay the ultimate price.
Wisconsin Reporter has confirmed that the Democratic National Committee, or DNC, was responsible for a recent blast of robocalls to voters in the 32nd Senate District, calls that promoted an erroneous election day.
Claire Cina, of Viola, last week told Wisconsin Reporter that she received a robocall, asking her whether she planned to vote on Aug. 16. The election, pitting Republican state Sen. Dan Kapanke against Democratic Rep. Jennifer Shilling, both of La Crosse, is Aug. 9.
Reid Magney, spokesman for the state’s nonpartisan Government Accountability Board, or GAB, said the agency has contacted DNC Services Corp., the organizational and fundraising muscle behind the Democratic Party. The DNC confirmed it had conducted the calls.
“They said they quickly realized the date error and stopped the robocalls the same day,” Magney said in an email. “They said the error was inadvertent.”
Cina was not convinced. She told Wisconsin Reporter that she believed the mistake was a “deliberate attempt to have people miss the election.”
The DNC declined to comment for this story.
Graeme Zielinski, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, last week told Wisconsin Reporter that he was suspect of the charge, asserting that the “Kapanke campaign has made lots of claims” over the course of the recall campaign.
Jennifer Harrington, Kapanke’s campaign manager, sounded perplexed by the assertion that a massive political organization, like the DNC, would not know when a critical election was scheduled.
“This is what happens when you have large outside interests like the president’s (Barack Obama) party getting involved,” Harrington said. “It’s frustrating.”
Of course, there’s big money coming from special interests from both parties, and there are armies of volunteers and paid vote-getters marching for both sides of the aisle. Harrington said her office is next to the headquarters of out-of-state public employees, campaigning on behalf of Shilling.
The Wisconsin Democratic Party on Tuesday filed charges with the GAB, claiming that absentee ballot applications mailed out by conservative group Americans for Prosperity were aimed at hampering voter turnout.
The letter, reportedly sent to 10,000 voters in the contested senate districts in Tuesday’s elections, incorrectly states absentee ballots would be counted if received at city clerks’ offices by Aug. 11 — two days after the election.
Wisconsin Democrats have asked U.S. Attorney James Santelle to investigate, according to The Associated Press, or AP. His office declined to comment, AP said.
“The corporate front group Americans For Prosperity has in at least two recall districts reportedly been distributing absentee ballots with return instructions that would render the votes ineligible,” the Democratic Party charges on its website.
Americans for Prosperity, or AFP, on Tuesday released a statement on its website noting the error, calling it a printing mistake.
“Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin did not intend to print the incorrect absentee deadline or confuse voters in any way,” said Matt Seaholm, the group’s state director. “AFP-Wisconsin is directly addressing this mistake by sending out a call to each and every individual on the mailing list to clarify the date of elections.”
As of Tuesday, it was unclear whether the DNC and AFP would face any legal action for the campaign “mistakes.”
So go the back-and-forth charges and allegations in an unprecedented recall election with so much at stake.
Six Republican incumbents are scrambling to stave off recall in Tuesday’s election, while two Democratic senators are sweating out the remaining days of their campaigns leading to the Aug. 16 recall elections. Pickups by the Democrats could shift the Senate’s balance of power, with Republicans controlling 19 seats to the Democrats’ 14.
The recalls are as much a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker’s first half-year-plus in office as it is about his reforms, with his most vocal opponents castigating Wisconsin’s chief executive as the front man for an ultra-conservative agenda, and his most ardent supporters deifying Walker as the savior of a broken — and broke — system of state government.
The problem, voters like Cina say, is that voters caught in the confusion may miss out on their right to cast their ballots.