Hours after polls closed in the closely contested 2011 state Supreme Court election, Republican consultants and lobbyists traded emails about launching a potential public campaign to allege “widespread” voter fraud, newly released emails show.
Critics say the emails are another sign of political motives behind Republican claims that voter fraud is a serious problem in Wisconsin.
The emails became public Wednesday through a report by Guardian US, an arm of the British newspaper, which included leaked court documents from the secret John Doe investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign.
They were dated to the early morning hours of April 6, 2011. At that time, the outcome remained too close to call in the race between incumbent and GOP favorite then-Justice David Prosser and the candidate favored by Democrats, Judge Joanne Kloppenburg.
Steve Baas, a lobbyist for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and former Republican legislative staffer, floated an idea on the email thread:
“Do we need to start messaging ‘widespread reports of election fraud’ so we are positively set up for the recount regardless of the final number? I obviously think we should.”
Scott Jensen — the former GOP Assembly Speaker turned lobbyist for American Federation for Children, a private school voucher advocacy group — quickly responded:
“Yes. Anything fishy should be highlighted. Stories should be solicited by talk radio hosts.”
In another email, Jensen writes that Prosser “needs to be on talk radio in the morning saying he is confident he won and talk radio needs to scream the Dems are trying to steal the race.”
Prosser went on to win the election in a recount. He served five more years on the high court before stepping down in July.
In a Wednesday post to his “Election Law Blog,” Rick Hasen, an election law expert at UC-Irvine, wrote the emails show “all this talk of fraud is all about manipulating Republican public opinion.”
“This cynical “messaging” is sadly validating of what many of us have said,” Hasen wrote.
Some Republican elected officials have cited concerns with voter fraud to justify the state’s voter ID requirement and other measures.
Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha told the Wisconsin State Journal in a statement that the exchange shows Republicans “clearly had no qualms about deceiving Wisconsin voters.”
“This latest revelation exposes the way the Republican spin machine works — they were prepared to simply make things up,” Barca said.
Jensen, in a statement to the State Journal Wednesday, defended his comments.
“All I said was if anything looked fishy, we should shine a spotlight on it. That’s not an international story,” Jensen wrote.
Editor's note: This story was corrected to reflect the status of the Supreme Court election on April 6, 2011.