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Inside Americans for Prosperity's Scheme to Suppress Votes in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, where Tea Party candidate Ron Johnson is surging, Americans for Prosperity has been hard at work to manipulate the vote.

The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute provided support for this article.

From familiar stories about “illegal” electioneering by ACORN and the Black Panthers to Sharron Angle’s recent claim that Harry Reid is trying to steal the election by offering prospective voters free food—the myth of widespread voter fraud is now commonplace among Republicans. In just one example, an unconfirmed assertion that Nevada voting machines already had Reid’s name checked off became a national story, with Rush Limbaugh claiming that the “New Black Panther Party,” with the “imprimatur of the Justice Department,” was “running fraudulent elections” across the country.

In this swirling storm of misinformation and propaganda, a half-dozen Republican activists met in the community room of the Tri City National Bank in Sturtevant, Wisconsin on October 27, to receive training on how to be an election observer. Lou D’Abbraccio, an official with the Racine County Republican Party, laid out a parade of voter fraud horribles to the assembled men, from fraudulent voter registrations to vans organized by “leftists” ferrying people “incentivized” with money or coupons to cast multiple votes at different polling locations.

“There are polling locations where the election workers are largely Republican, and we have less concern,” said D’Abbraccio, a member of the Racine Tea Party , the local chapter of Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity. “Then there are polling places where, not so much. Historically we have observed things there that are issues.”

This year, the Wisconsin GOP, Americans for Prosperity and Wisconsin tea party groups are working together, through the GOP and the tea party-affiliated website We’re Watching Wisconsin Elections , to combat this alleged scourge on the democratic process.

D’Abbraccio went on to recount “war stories” from previous elections, particularly 2004, which he claimed was “the worst election I’ve experienced in Racine.”

Even though Wisconsin law prohibits photography by anyone but news media inside a polling place, D’Abbraccio counseled his trainees to bring their cell phone cameras just in case. “Theoretically you’re not supposed to take pictures,” he said, but told the group to do it “surreptitiously” if they needed to document anything—and to “be careful.”

The progressive group One Wisconsin Now has asked the US Attorney, the State Attorney General and the state Government Accountability Board to investigate a joint plan by the state Republican Party, Americans for Prosperity and local tea party groups “to engage in voter suppression” during the election, in violation of the Constitution and federal law. In particular, based on documents made available on the We’re Watching Wisconsin Elections and other tea party sites, as well as a recording obtained by One Wisconsin Now at a June meeting at which the coordination was discussed, AFP would pay for mailings to voters so that a list of supposedly ineligible voters could be used by tea party activists to challenge voters at the polls.

The GOP and tea party groups have  denied the existence of any plan, in spite of the public documents outlining it. Tim Dake, one of the speakers on the tape One Wisconsin Now obtained and a leading state tea party figure associated with the Wisconsin Grandsons of Liberty, called the charges “ridiculous, reprehensible and could be construed as libel.” But the We’re Watching Wisconsin Elections site continues to publicize meetings organized by the Wisconsin Republican Party to train election observers and to make the training materials available on their site.

At the Racine County training, there was no discussion of using any lists to challenge the eligibility of voters. While D’Abbraccio urged his trainees to be polite, he nonetheless continually elaborated on and reinforced the impression that rampant fraud by “leftist” groups threatened the integrity of the election and that election observers were necessary to report such fraud to party officials and to challenge the eligibility of voters they suspected of fraud.