Liberal publication gets ‘voter caging’ wrong all around


By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis.— On Friday, the Progressive posted on its website a panting story headlined, “Emails Suggest Walker Aides Ran Illegal Vote-Purging Scheme.”

The left-wing monthly magazine, which prides itself on investigative reporting, declared that emails released last week “appear to show Governor Scott Walker’s top aides,” when Walker was Milwaukee County executive, “possibly” engaged in an “illegal scheme to ‘cage’ Wisconsin voters in the weeks ahead of the 2010 gubernatorial election.”

AGGRESSIVE PROGRESSIVE: Republican Gov. Scott Walker has been a focal point of the Progressive magazine’s loathing of conservatives. In the publication’s haste to paint Walker as corrupt, it was forced to correct a story about “voter caging.”

The Progressive pointed to page 15,037 of the 27,000-plus emails and other documents a judge ordered released from the private files of Kelly Rindfleisch, Walker’s former deputy chief of staff.

“If you come this Saturday I can show you how to cage,” Walker staffer Nicole Simmons writes in an email exchange with Rindfleisch. “That will be priority on the weekend.”

The communication “spells it out pretty plainly,” asserts the Progressive, that something nefarious was going down.

“Voter caging is an illegal campaign practice used to purge voters from the rolls. Neighborhoods with large minority concentrations are most typically targeted by caging operations,” the piece asserts.

Just a couple of problems: The Progressive’s piece was incorrect, and, according to a former Federal Election Commission official, the term “voter caging” is a made-up concoction of the left to describe a voter registration vetting process that is perfectly legal.

The Progressive did post a correction:

Editor’s note: Upon further research, the emails referenced in this story appear to relate to the use of software called “Complete Campaigns,” which is a “back office” program for processing campaign donations, and not a voter “caging” scheme. The Progressive regrets this error.”

Conservative publication Right Wisconsin called the Progressive out for the liberal magazine’s failure to understand campaign terminology.

More troubling, perhaps, are the dozens of liberal organizations and Democrats — from the Daily Kos to the Jackson County Democrats to state Rep. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay — who retweeted the erroneous post, often upping the overheated scandal invectives.

Hansen, who fired out several tweets linking to stories salivating over what they deemed to be Walker’s political destruction, as of Monday afternoon had yet to offer a retraction concerning the Progressive story tweet he seemed to so enthusiastically blast to his 112 followers.

Hansen did not return a phone call from Wisconsin Reporter seeking comment on the erroneous story.

As of mid-afternoon Monday, it appeared none of the liberal publications and groups noted the Progressive’s scuffle with the facts, opting to keep the erroneous story going, seemingly for the sake of their coordinated narrative: That Scott Walker is a criminal. That’s a theme the left can’t let go, despite the fact that a nearly three-year politically charged John Doe investigation did not find evidence of wrongdoing by Walker.

That fact apparently means nothing to the Progressive, which includes a long lineup of Walker-is-obviously-guilty headlines on its website. The site, less than a week after the Rindfleisch emails were released, includes 10 stories attempting to skewer the Republican governor.

Walker’s Denials No Longer Hold Up,” declares one story written by Progressive editor Ruth Conniff, who appeared on MSNBC insisting that “Walker is clearly at the center of a criminal conspiracy.”

“It’s a very clear picture,” Conniff told Ed Schultz during her appearance on The Ed Show.

The Progressive’s editor does acknowledge that the publication screwed up.

“We got it wrong. It was an honest mistake, and we quickly pointed out online,” she told Wisconsin Reporter.

The glitch, according to Conniff, was the atmosphere in which the Progressive reporter read the emails. She said there were “several stories out there suggesting voter caging going on. It caught the eye of one of our reporters and it wasn’t right.”

Therein arguably lies the greater indictment: A news media so intoxicated by allegations and accusations of abuse of power involving one of the left’s most hated conservatives that there has been a rush to report all things embarrassing or politically damaging to Walker, a rising conservative star who some say has eyes on a 2016 presidential run.

Striking, too, according to one elections expert, is how the term “voter caging” has slipped into the political lexicon.

Hans von Spakovsky, who served two years as a member of the Federal Election Commission before joining the Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, said the term is made-up.

“This is an entirely fake term created several years ago by Democrats and liberal activists,” he said. “It’s not illegal. It’s a fake term that tries to make people think something bad is going on.”

Campaigns, of course, send out all kinds of literature to voters, regardless of whether they want it. When those mailings come back from the United States Postal Service as “undeliverable,” noting a voter does not reside at the address, the campaign may contest the individual’s voter eligibility.

“The left has gone crazy about this. They say campaigns are trying to purge voters,” von Spakovsky said.

Conniff insists voter caging is part of the kind of “voter suppression” she said is part and parcel of the Walker administration and the Republican-led Legislature’s voter ID law. The state Supreme Court takes up the question of the law’s constitutionality this week.

“There’s been a lot of news about voter caging as it relates to suppressing the vote, particularly of people who move a lot,” the editor said. “Low-income and minority voters have been the target of this practice.”

Conniff said voter suppression is being perpetrated in the name of going after voter fraud, a sham problem perpetuated by conservative groups, in her view.

Von Spakovsky, however, points to a 2012 Pew Center on the States report that found the nation’s voter registration rolls are a mess, with one in eight active registrations invalid or inaccurate. The report also found that there were about 1.8 million dead people listed as active voters, and about 2.8 million people had active registrations in more than one state.

A 2011 investigation by Wisconsin Reporter found nearly 1,000 probable deceased individuals who remained on the Statewide Voter Registration System.

As to the “caging” question, the Pew report found that about 12 million registrations have errors serious enough to make it unlikely that mailings based on the information will reach voters.

“These problems waste taxpayer dollars, undermine voter confidence and fuel partisan disputes over the integrity of our elections,” said David Becker, director of election initiatives at the Pew Center.

Reid Magney, public information officer at Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board, said there is nothing illegal about sending a mailing to individuals and then challenging the eligibility of a voter if that mailing comes back as undeliverable.

But just because a campaign challenges a voter’s eligibility doesn’t mean that challenge will hold. Magney said there is a process to disqualify electors, as spelled out in state statute 6.325.

In short, there must be reasonable doubt, and undeliverable mailing isn’t enough to create such doubt.

“No person may be disqualified as an elector unless the municipal clerk, board of election commissioners or a challenging elector under s. 6.48 demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that the person does not qualify as an elector or is not properly registered,” the law states.

“If it appears that the challenged elector is registered at a residence in this state other than the one where the elector now resides, the municipal clerk or board of election commissioners shall, before permitting the elector to vote, require the elector to transfer his or her registration under s. 6.40 (1) (a) and shall notify the municipal clerk or board of election commissioners at the former residence,” the statute further notes.

“The real mistake made here, and the media makes this mistake, is that these progressive groups are convinced that people get arbitrarily dropped from election lists,” von Spakovsky said. “They don’t drop folks until they investigate the circumstances.”

And as Wisconsin Reporter has reported, the state’s plodding “voter list maintenance” process sends out contact information every two years to individuals who have not voted in the previous four years.

“I think we follow a very defined, transparent procedure for doing this, and it’s done in partnership with the (county) clerks,” Magney said.

Contact M.D. Kittle at

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