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updated: 8/4/2012 12:37 PM

Wisconsin issues voter rights guide after Lake County clerk incident

Flier comes after complaint about Lake Co. clerk

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  • Willard Helander

      Willard Helander

 
 

Nearly two month s after a formal complaint was filed about Lake County Clerk Willard Helander's actions as a poll watcher during Wisconsin's recall election, officials there have taken steps to prevent similar problems.

Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board, which oversees the state's elections, has released a two-page guide to voter rights and responsibilities. In part, the document delineates what election observers can and cannot do while at polling places.

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It says observers must direct questions or comments to chief election inspectors and cannot talk to voters -- something Helander admitted doing while she was in Wisconsin for the recall election.

Observers also are forbidden from causing a disruption, the guide states, and those who don't follow instructions from poll workers can be ordered to leave or face criminal charges.

In a news release, GAB Director Kevin Kennedy complained about "disturbing reports and complaints about unacceptable, illegal behavior by observers" during recent elections.

"Voters expect a calm setting in which to exercise their right to vote," Kennedy said.

Helander, a Libertyville Republican, could not be reached for comment.

Helander was among several Republicans from Illinois who went to Wisconsin on June 5 to observe election procedures during the gubernatorial recall effort, which Republican incumbent Scott Walker won by a fairly wide margin.

Helander visited four sites in Racine County, just across the Illinois border. The complaint against her stemmed from an encounter with a female voter at a polling place at Jefferson Lighthouse Elementary School.

In an interview after the complaint was filed, Helander said she questioned a political button or sticker the woman was wearing inside the polling place, believing such items to be forbidden. The woman became upset and filed the complaint.

Helander said she later learned the rule about buttons and stickers isn't enforced and acknowledged she shouldn't have spoken to the woman. The new flier does state that voters "must not wear any political paraphernalia such as campaign shirts, hats or buttons to the polls."

Helander said she took a vacation day from the clerk's office for her trip to Wisconsin. Helander wanted to be an observer because she's "interested in fair elections anywhere."

When reached this week, Government Accountability Board spokesman Reid Magney declined to comment on the status of the complaint against Helander, saying reports are confidential until they are resolved.

The publication of the voter rights guide was not a direct response to the allegations against Helander, Magney said. The office received a number of reports about similar behavior, he said.

The guide is being distributed in Wisconsin ahead of the state's Aug. 14 primary.

The flier and the news release are available online at gab.wi.gov/node/2437.

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