As polls show support for President Obama sagging in the battleground state of Wisconsin, the sheriff in one of the state's most populous Democratic counties says he wants inmates to vote and his deputies to ignore the felon status some of them might have. Wisconsin state law prohibits felons from voting while they are serving jail time or on parole.
Sheriff Dave Mahoney of Dane County, home to the state capitol of Madison, is a former union official who frequently involves himself in the local political scene. A memo sent Lt. Mark Twombly of his department instructed deputies working at the county jail to allow inmates to obtain and cast absentee ballots. The memo specifically instructed the officers to not check the department's computer system to determine whether or not the inmate is eligible to vote under state law.
"It is going to be up to their polling location to research whether they are allowed to vote based on their criminal record, not the DCSO [Dane County Sheriff's Office]," Twombly wrote in the memo. In Wisconsin absentee ballots are delivered on election day to the local polling location of the voter to be counted. Municipal clerks are tasked with filling absentee ballot requests.
When asked about the memo, Mahoney told a leftwing Madison talk show host that he was not going to back down on the instructions. Instead of admitting that his office was poised to potentially facilitate violations of state election law, Mahoney angrily lashed out at the deputy who leaked the memo calling the whistleblower "unethical" and "unprofessional."
Sheriff Mahoney has ties to the Democratic establishment in Wisconsin. A former labor union boss, Mahoney refused to arrest protesters at the state capitol when they harassed and threatened Republican lawmakers and staff. Some female staffers felt extremely threatened by male protesters who would walk into their offices shouting and threatening them. Mahoney excused the protesters' actions by saying Republicans provoked them by introducing collective bargaining reform legislation.
Lt. Twombly, the memo's author, signed a petition to recall Governor Scott Walker from office.
Instead of upholding and enforcing the law, Mahoney's decision to let felons cast ballots leaves catching that violation up to overworked local election officials. Mahoney said on Monday that it is his job as a law enforcement officer to look out for and protect the rights of the people in his jail. Left without explanation is why someone sworn to protect the law would be defending lawbreakers and jeopardizing the integrity of votes cast by law-abiding citizens.
The latest poll in Wisconsin showed President Obama with a narrow edge over Governor Romney, 49% to 47%. This is the first time Obama polled under 50% in Wisconsin and it came on the heels of his disastrous debate performance in Denver.