Posted on October 29, 2004

Group Sent Couple To ‘Test’ Voter Registration Sites

Georgia Pabst, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, October 26, 2004

The Midwest field director for a self-described immigration reform organization sent two Michigan residents to voter registration stations in Racine and Milwaukee to “test the system” by seeking to register.

Susan Tully, Midwest field director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), confirmed Tuesday that she sent the people to the registration stations operated by Voces de la Frontera on the belief that an illegal immigrant was working at the Racine station and wrongly registering voters.

After investigating the Milwaukee incident, District Attorney E. Michael McCann said Tuesday that he won’t pursue prosecution, partly because he can’t confirm the identity of the testers. But he issued a stiff warning.

“Anyone who tries to test the system from now on will be criminally prosecuted no matter who they claim they are working for or what they’re testing,” he said.

Racine County Deputy District Attorney Michael Nieskes said Tuesday that his investigation in Racine is continuing.

He, too, said individuals should leave the investigation to the professionals and take any credible information to law enforcement. “It makes the case much easier to pursue,” he said.

He added that the testers are put at possible legal risk by such tactics.

According to a description on its Web site, Washington, D.C.-based FAIR is a non-profit citizens organization that “seeks to improve border security, to stop illegal immigration, and to promote immigration levels consistent with the national interest — more traditional rates of about 300,000 a year.”

Voces de la Frontera, a community group that works on immigrant and worker rights, is holding a voter registration drive in Latino communities in Racine and Milwaukee.

Tully said she sent a man and a woman from Kalamazoo, Mich., — one a foreign national and the other a Spanish-speaking American citizen — to Voces offices in Racine and Milwaukee to register to vote. Both transactions were tape-recorded, and the tapes were turned over to prosecutors, Tully said.

According to McCann, volunteers at Voces said they were suspicious of the two, who said they were born in the United States but had lived in Colombia and seemed vague about their status though insistent on registering. One volunteer agreed to register them, but a second tore up the card believing it was fraudulent, McCann said. He said the cards have not turned up at the city Election Commission.

In Racine, the cards have been recovered from the city clerk’s office, but questions remain about who signed them, Nieskes said.

Tully reacted angrily to McCann’s conclusions. “I have a slam-dunk case, and they’re not doing their job,” she said.

“It’s amazing. We have people who we believe are registering illegal aliens to vote and the DA says he will go after American citizens instead of illegals who may be committing felonies,” she said. “It’s unbelievable to me.”

She said she does not believe groups such as Voces de la Frontera, or any advocacy group — whether Democratic or Republican — should handle voter registration.

“The real way to handle voter registration is to put it in the hands of government officials,” she said.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, director of Voces, denied that illegal immigrants are registering voters at Voces’ offices. She said FAIR is an anti-Latino organization that’s trying to discredit Voces’ work.

Peter Earle, a lawyer who consulted with Voces on the case, said volunteers registering voters take the job seriously. “I find it distasteful that outsiders come to a swing state to try to manipulate the election,” he said. “There’s an implied racism here.”

[Editor’s Note: Click here for background on this story.]