Glendale mayor: Primary election observers disrupted proceedings

Election observers were seen challenging Wisconsin absentee ballots on Tuesday, July 2; the mayor of Glendale called their behavior "despicable" and suggested it could be a preview of things to come in a tense presidential election year.

"They basically were just trying to disrupt things," said Glendale Mayor Bryan Kennedy.

What mayor says happened

Kennedy said it began as soon as the polling places opened on Tuesday. First, he said they expressed they weren't close enough to the absentee ballot counting. Then, the mayor said they complained poll workers weren't saying the names loudly enough. 

"A couple of them got confrontational with the poll workers, the chief election inspectors. They were warned a number of times and then they began challenging every single ballot," Kennedy alleged. "They basically were just trying to disrupt things."

"At Bavarian Bierhouse, one of the observers was actually told multiple times that they had to quiet down and behave that there are rules they have to follow. And they were also told multiple times that they have to listen to the chief election inspector and they refused to, so police removed somebody." 

While police responded to the reports of confrontations between election observers and poll workers, the mayor stated police didn't make any arrests.

FOX6 reviewed the official order to leave the polling place filled out by the election workers. It accused one of the observers of "Repeatedly challenging ballots with no acceptable criteria as prescribed in ‘challenge documentation.’" As well, the order stated the woman was "interfering with processing." 

FOX6 reviewed the sign-in sheets for election observers and found three election observers at each of the Glendale polling locations Tuesday – the Bavarian Bierhaus, Good Hope School and Glendale City Hall. Two listed themselves as "concerned citizens." One listed herself as representing the GOP. Another two listed themselves as "independent." Another didn't write in the line asking who she represented. 

On a third sheet, Peter Bernegger listed himself as representing the "Traditionalist Party." While, Harry Wait listed himself as representing the "Green Party." Wait is facing charges after he admitted to requesting absentee ballots for Speaker Robin Vos and Racine Mayor Cory Mason, in what he said was an attempt to show vulnerabilities in the state's voting website. A final person said they represented "HOT Government," which is Wait's group. 

"I think it’s despicable behavior to disrupt the proceedings. You have every right to observe the process, but our poll workers are incredibly well-trained," Kennedy said.

Wait is a conservative who joined Bernegger observing the polling place at Glendale's City Hall. He told FOX6 News they were cordial with the poll workers and were patiently sitting after making their first objection to the absentee ballots. 

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Observer spotted challenging absentee ballots in Milwaukee

FOX6 News tracked down Bernegger later in the day at Milwaukee's absentee ballot central count, where he was raising objections to all the absentee ballots on the tables in front of him. The election staff denied his request. 

"Your challenge is because a piece of paper is missing from mail-in absentee ballots. We are denying your challenge," Milwaukee Election Commission executive director Paulina Gutierrez told him.

When FOX6's Jason Calvi asked for Bernegger's reaction to the Glendale mayor's comments, he didn't respond to Calvi. Instead, Bernegger called to an election official: "I have a challenge. This guy is harassing me."

"I’m just asking you to give your reaction to the Glendale mayor saying you were being disruptive today," Calvi said. 

"I'm working," Bernegger said. 

"So no comment?" Calvi asked.

Bernegger was silent.

Also silent was an attorney seen advising the election observers at Milwaukee's central count. 

"I don’t have any comment," said attorney Dan Eastman. "I represent a client and you’ll have to speak to the client."

State election commissions chair reacts

Wisconsin Elections Commission Chair Ann Jacobs was willing to talk. She defended the state's new absentee ballot envelopes, which seemed to be a problem for the observers. The commission, made up of half Democratic appointees and half Republican, approved the new absentee ballot envelopes in a 6-0 vote.

"The commission very clearly believes that the envelopes set forward are accurate, they comply with state law, and people should be comfortable using those absentee ballots to vote absentee," Jacobs said in an interview.

A primary for a special election was held for the 4th District of the Wisconsin State Senator, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Lena Taylor, who left the post to become a judge. That district includes part of Milwaukee and some suburbs, including Glendale. 

"Today, there were two Democrats on the ballot in a Democratic primary for an open state Senate seat. There is no Republican running. There was no Republican primary on July 30th. There won't be a Republican on the ballot. There will be one name and that person will be unopposed," Kennedy said. "So, the fact that they have chosen a city that votes overwhelmingly Democratic to come and essentially threaten the rights of the Democratic voters in this city, as well as the Republican voters to not have their votes counted, I think is a despicable practice."

While one of the observers wrote she represented the GOP, and others are linked with conservative causes, the Republican Party distanced itself from these election observers.

"The Republican Party of Wisconsin did not recruit any election observers for the Democrat special election. The individuals responsible for these disturbances are in no way affiliated with the RPW," said spokesman Matt Fisher.