Racine's 'Partisan' Voting Van

MADISON —  Racine’s “polling booth on wheels” has gotten a lot of mileage since the liberal voting activist group funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg dropped a generous “safe election” grant on the city in 2020. The mobile voting unit was designed to cruise on into certain areas of the city and serve as a remote site for early “in-person” voting.

Now the ice cream truck-looking vehicle is at the center of an elections integrity action filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.

The Milwaukee-based civil rights law firm in its complaint  alleges the city’s use of mobile voting sites throughout the community violates state law governing alternate absentee ballot sites. The complaint, filed with the Wisconsin Elections Commission Wednesday on behalf of Racine voter Kenneth Brown, urges WEC to direct Racine to comply with state laws that prevent mobile voting sites and ensure the sites selected do not offer a partisan advantage.

As a recent state Supreme Court ruling drives home, state law provides that the office of the municipal clerk is the default location where “voted absentee ballots shall be returned by electors for any election.”

While there may be circumstances when the clerk’s office is unavailable for early, in-person absentee voting, any alternate absentee ballot site designated must be “located as near as practicable to the office of the municipal clerk or board of election commissioners.” Furthermore, “no site may be designated that affords an advantage to any political party.”

Racine’s mobile voting unit has motored into various locations around the city for in-person absentee voting. For this week’s primary, City Clerk Tara McMenamin allowed 21 alternate absentee ballot locations scattered throughout the city. The majority of the locations provided an advantage to the Democratic Party because they were located in the most Democratic parts of the city, according to a new WILL analysis.

The election van visited each site for three hours before moving to another site over the course of two weeks prior to election day, according to WILL. McMenamin allowed absentee voting at the mobile sites and at the clerk’s office in city hall.

State law addresses voting in fixed locations, not in cars, vans, “polling booths on wheels.”

“Racine’s use of mobile voting sites violates clear directives in state law on the collection of absentee ballots at alternative sites,” said Anthony LoCoco, the law firm’s deputy counsel.

McMenamin did not return a call seeking comment. She recently told WISN-12 that the city is not breaking the law. She was responding to Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Ramthun’s charge that the mobile voting unit was going around collecting ballots.

“I invite him to come, come and see it, come look, come be an observer, come watch the process,” McMenamin said. “We are certainly not driving around collecting ballots, nor are we open except for those noticed times.”

McMenamin told the news outlet that, when open, the van is staffed with election workers typically at two different spots in the city each day during in-person early voting.

As Wisconsin Spotlight uncovered in a series of investigative reports, Racine was the leading member of the so-called “Wisconsin 5,” the largest and most heavily Democrat cities in the state that received the lion’s share of private grants to help administer the 2020 elections. Racine received nearly $1 million in “Zuckerbucks,” funding from the Chicago-based Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars in donations from Facebook’s Zuckerberg and his wife. Records show CTCL and its network of liberal voting activist groups took on election administration functions in the Wisconsin 5 cities in the 2020 presidential election.

According to documents obtained by Wisconsin Spotlight, Racine officials at one point sought $337,000 for a RV and a broad voter messaging plan. The city sought, among other things, $250,000 in Zuckerbucks to purchase a mobile voting precinct (RV) “so the city can travel around the city to community centers and strategically chosen partner locations and enable people to vote in this accessible (ADA compliant) secure, and completely portable polling booth on wheels.”

The pitch assured CTCL the mobile voting unit would be an “investment that the city will be able to use for years to come.”

The Racine City Council in August 2020 approved a contract with Burlington RV to purchase the vehicle. It also gave its blessing to a contract (for as much as $120,000) with Kane Communications to conduct outreach ahead of the November election, according to the Racine Journal Times.

WILL’s analysis finds the polling booth on wheels stopped in parts of the city that turn out the highest percentage of Democrat votes. The law firm also alleges that absentee voting at the clerk’s office continued while the mobile voting unit was deployed. If a city uses alternate sites, the law states, “no function related to voting and return of absentee ballots that is to be conducted at the alternate site may be conducted in the office of the municipal clerk or board of election commissioners.”

“WEC must make clear that Racine is violating the law and ensure that clerks across the state understand what is, and is not permitted in Wisconsin law,” LoCoco said.

State Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) said the city has a history of violating election law.