Mike Heine/The Week
(Published March. 19, 2007, 4:38 p.m.)
While her petitioning has irked some members of the Walworth County Board, Chairwoman Ann Lohrmann's signature gathering near the East Troy polling location last November was not electioneering, according to a State Elections Board legal counsel.
State Elections Board Attorney George Dunst said it is his opinion that gathering signatures "and nothing more" done within 100 feet of a polling site is not electioneering.
Getting into debate with a voter about the petition could cross the line, Dunst said.
"The key is you ask someone for their signature, they say 'no' or 'yes' and you're done. Don't ask why not," he said. "Additional conduct could lead to a determination that (a signature gatherer) is engaged in conducting interference with an election."
State statutes prohibit electioneering--any activity intended to influence voting at an election--"during polling hours on any public property on Election Day within 100 feet of an entrance to a building containing a polling place."
The key to the opinion is the "and nothing more" clause, Dunst said. Election officials at the polling site are to determine if "something more" happens, which could constitute electioneering or interference with an election.
Lohrmann stood outside the village of East Troy polling location exit during last November's election and collected signatures for an effort to reduce the size of the Walworth County Board.
East Troy Village Administrator/Clerk Judy Weter and Walworth County Clerk Kim Bushey called the elections board for advice. Officials told them Lohrmann should probably be at least 100 feet away from the polling site.
Lohrmann, who felt that her activities were always legal, left the area after a conversation with a police officer.
Several members of the county board have since asked for Lohrmann's resignation or removal as a result of her signature gathering. Some have said her actions undermined the board's majority decision not to discuss a downsizing until after the next census. Other supervisors say Lohrmann was not totally up front about her activity on Election Day.
Dunst said that while Lohrmann did nothing illegal-so long as she was only gathering signatures-it's still advisable to stay 100 feet away from a polling place when there for any related activity to voting, such as petitioning, campaigning or protesting.
"Outside 100 feet, you're pretty much protected," Dunst said.
Dunst is putting the final touches on his opinion, which will either go to Elections Board Executive Director Kevin Kennedy and Board Chairman John Savage for immediate approval or be referred to the Elections Board for approval at its May meeting.