On Thursday, June 14 the Racine County Sheriff’s Office confirmed to statewide media outlets they are investigating alleged “voter irregularities” at one of the Racine polling sites. Based on an unnamed citizen complaint and alleged evidence of voter registration irregularities left in a dumpster, Racine County District Attorney Rich Chiapete has asked Sheriff Christopher Schmaling to investigate the alleged irregularities. On the heels of this announcement, State Senator Van Wangaard has requested a recount of the election. Challenger John Lehman has a post-canvas lead of over 800 votes, outside the .5% margin for a state-paid recall. The Government Accountability Board is poised to certify election results next week – but the “investigation” plays too perfectly into pre-election GOP cries of voter fraud. The question is, what is the real fraud in Racine County?
Racine County District Attorney Rich Chiapete requested the investigation be conducted by the Sheriff’s Department. Chiapete became Racine County District Attorney on March 1, 2012 after being nominated by Governor Scott Walker. The appointment of Chiapete came after Walker named then-DA Mike Nieskes to a vacant Circuit Court Judgeship (more on that in a bit). Chiapete will not face an election until January 2013, and was the only applicant to the vacancy. Staff in the DA’s office informed Badger Democracy today that Nieskes was instrumental in securing the position for Chiapete internally. According to campaign finance records, Chiapete’s wife Jennifer contributed $100 to Van Wangaard’s campaign in 2011.
Previous DA Mike Nieskes left his position to accept a Circuit Court Judgeship after being appointed by – you guessed it – Governor Scott Walker in December, 2011. Nieskes has been DA since 2005, after running unopposed. Prior to that, he was acting DA after the embattled Lennie Weber stepped down in 1993 to serve on the State Gaming Board (Weber was a Tommy Thompson nominee). Weber resigned the gaming board amidst scandal in 1994. While serving in a supposed “non-partisan” office, Nieske donated to Scott Walker in 2010, Bill McReynolds in 2006, and Reince Priebus in 2004.
Nieskes was appointed in 2011 after the tragic suicide of Circuit Court Judge Dennis Barry. Barry died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in August, 2011. He had been a Dreyfus appointee in 1980, and had served as Racine County DA – winning election in 1978 by a recount. Barry was a well-respected juror, and was close friends with Van Wangaard. In fact, Barry’s wife Joan has contributed campaign money to Van Wangaard, Robin Vos, Bill McReynolds, Tommy Thompson, and George Petak. Wangaard named Barry as an inspiration in his recount press release.
Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling won election in November 2010. Schmaling himself donated $100 to Republican Chris Wright in 2010, is a staunch GOP supporter, and proponent of privatization of County services. On his own campaign website, Robin Vos (R-Rochester) uses Schmaling’s department as an example of how Act 10 is “working” :
“This week, Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling told me the county can now outsource food service for their jail. The result is big savings for taxpayers and will help in the crime fighting efforts in our area. The change from doing the food service internally to outsourcing it to a company named Aramark…”
Aramark has faced repeated criticism on cost, service, product, and treatment of employees. The company was virtually forced to end its contract with Florida Department of Corrections following numerous fines for contract violations. Racine residents should keep a close eye on the real costs to taxpayers associated with this contract.
The bottom line here is simple – each of the players in this case – DA Chiapete, Sheriff Schmaling, former DA and now Judge Nieskes all have a vested political and financial interest in the outcome of this case. This is an obvious attempt to use unfounded claims of “vote irregularities” to block the electoral process – a highly hypocritical move for the GOP machine, smearing Milwaukee DA John Chisolm and the John Doe Investigation (Chisolm has prosecuted Democrats and Republicans alike during his truly non-partisan terms). All three of these GOP shills should recuse themselves and appoint an independent investigator if they truly believe a crime was committed.
But they won’t – look for a case in a GOP-friendly court (such as Waukesha County), based on these so-called “irregularities” to enjoin the GAB from certifying the election, as the case makes its way through the courts – and the Senate remains at 17-16 until November. Both Racine County DA and Sheriff’s Department refused comment to Badger Democracy on an “ongoing investigation.”
More proof that voter disenfranchisement is fine – as long as it works for the GOP and their machine. 1900, here we come.