People ask the Brawler all the time -- often enough that I mention it -- "Brawler, Why did the people of Milwaukee have to learn about the lonesome plight of Kimberly Prude from the New York Times last month instead of their own daily newspaper, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel?"
Kimberly Prude, as the Brawler has repeated endlessly -- because he thinks it's important -- was a grandmother who voted in the 2004 when she shouldn't have (she was on probation), tried to correct her mistake and has been in prison for more than a year. It's the kind of story -- Jane Sixpack getting crushed by the feds over a trivial offense -- that gets journalists (not to mention rightwing talkers) in a huff.
But the people of the great city of Milwaukee had to learn about it from the New York Times last month. Why? Well for the answer, we have to go all the way back to the 2004 election. That was when (as the Brawler has repeated endlessly because he thinks it's important and few people seem to want to remember), the Republicans sought to purge thousands of names from the voter rolls for the flimsiest of reasons and then engaged in acts of voter suppression at the polls. (Read here.)
Now, to be fair, while the Journal Sentinel never went along with Repub accusations of a massive conspiracy -- although the paper did give the accusations front-page treatment, which, arguably. gave them, a legitimacy they didn't deserve.
What the Journal Sentinel did, however, was suggest that things were so screwed up with Milwaukee's voter rolls and election system that if a party -- say, the ruthlessly disciplined Democratic Party -- wanted to they could have stolen the election fair and square.
From the Feb. 2 2005 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Record-keeping surrounding the Nov. 2 presidential election in Milwaukee is so flawed that in 17 wards there were at least 100 more votes recorded than people listed by the city as voting there.
In two wards, one on the south side and one on the north side, the gap is more than 500, with fewer than half the votes cast in each ward accounted for in the city's computer system, a Journal Sentinel review has found.
Such gaps were present at different levels in nearly all of the city wards and could hamper the investigation launched last week by federal and local authorities into possible voter fraud by giving an incomplete or inaccurate picture of who actually voted.
They also raise questions about the level of oversight of how the city records who voted in each ward an important safeguard that, properly done, can be used to spot double voting and other problems.
And unless the gaps can be fully resolved, they leave room for critics to allege that ballot boxes were stuffed in the city, which went heavily to Democrat John Kerry over President Bush in a state with one of the closest margins in the country.
Yikes! The ghost of the Chicago machine moved 90 miles north.
It got worse. From the 5/11/05 Journal Sentinel:
Investigators said Tuesday they found clear evidence of fraud in the Nov. 2 election in Milwaukee, including more than 200 cases of felons voting illegally and more than 100 people who voted twice, used fake names or false addresses or voted in the name of a dead person.
Officials said charges will be filed in coming weeks, as individual cases are reviewed and more evidence is gathered.
Nonetheless, it is likely that many perhaps most of those who committed fraud won't face prosecution because city records are so sloppy that it will be difficult to establish cases that will stand up in court.
And even now, three months after the investigation began, officials have not been able to close a gap of 7,000 votes, with more ballots cast than voters listed. Officials said the gap remains at 4,609.
The Journal Sentinel would hammer on that sinister 4,609 relentlessly, when it was apparent to most sentient observers -- and particularly observers who've ever been in a jampacked voting station where overworked volunteers are trying to keep things running smooth and in the right lines -- that this was the result of less than great record keeping at the polling stations.
The Capital Times made this point two days later:
But were ballot boxes actually stuffed?
Likely not, said Kevin Kennedy, executive director of the state Elections Board, who said current practices leave plenty of room for mistakes in recording how many people vote.
Moreover, Kennedy said, fraud on the scale suspected in Milwaukee defies logic because it ignores how elections are conducted in Wisconsin. The only way that many phony ballots could enter the system would be through a broad conspiracy involving poll workers at dozens of wards, he said.
"You're going to have to be someone in the system ... because you have to have access to the ballots and have the ability to get the ballots into the ballot box or counting device without attracting attention," Kennedy said Thursday.
Kennedy emphasized he has not been a part of the ongoing investigation and doesn't know what records authorities have reviewed. But he said there are numerous ways poll workers - many of them harried and poorly trained but not bent on fraud - could have undercounted voters even though their votes were counted...
This sort of common sense observation was not a characteristic of the MJS's sensationalistic coverage -- coverage, mind you, that caught Karl Rove's eye and may have played a role, ironically enough, in getting St. Steve Biskupic's name on the USA hatchet list.
It's interesting to note that same story, written at a time of widespread Republican accusations of a voter fraud conspiracy, buried this item in the 33rd paragraph of the story:
Biskupic said there was no indication of a widespread conspiracy to commit voter fraud, or of any knowledge or involvement by poll workers or any other city officials.
Huh. Some might suggest this would undermine some of the more sinister suggestions the Greg Borowski-bylined story raised in the first couple grafs. You know, the grafs people actually read vs. the 33rd which, statistically speaking, none of the MJS readers absorb.
Attention UW-M journalism students: This is called burying the lede!
Of course, if that graf had led the story -- which it should have -- the JS wouldn't have been able to swagger with this prose:
Democrat John Kerry topped President Bush in Wisconsin, mainly because of Kerry's margin in Milwaukee and Madison.
Had a larger state, such as Ohio, gone the other way, it could have led to a Florida-style recount here that would have turned on many of the issues that instead were left for the newspaper to uncover in its extensive investigation.
Thank God for the MJS!
Of course, come December, St. Steven Biskupic declared that there was no sign of a conspiracy to tilt the election -- now the lead in the Journal Sentinel even though he'd been saying essentially the same thing for months. (Sources tell the Brawler that Biskupic also described the sky as "blue" during this period.)
The Dec. 5, 2005 coverage of Biskupic's declaration listed the tally:
Four of the 18 people accused of felonies in the investigation have been convicted, officials said Monday.
Here is the breakdown of cases:
• Federal prosecutors have charged 14 people: 10 felons with voting illegally and four people with double voting.
Four of the felons accused of illegal voting were convicted, one was acquitted and five cases are pending, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rick Frohling said.
None of the four people charged with double voting has been convicted. Charges against one person were dismissed because of mental incompetence, one person was acquitted, one trial resulted in a hung jury, and one person who agreed initially to plead guilty now wants a trial, Frohling said.
The Brawler suspects that the acquitted double voter was Cynthia Alicea, whose crime was filling out two registration cards, both in her own name. Her sad tale never made it into the news pages but Gregory Stanford wrote it up.
But Kimberly Prude was to remain anonymous, a nameless felon, until the NYT reported her pathetic story to an incredulous nation. And recall, a federal appeals judge reviewing the case said she found Bisk's whole prosecution to be "mysterious."
Really it wasn't mysterious. A USA can't spend nearly a year chasing phantom voter fraudsters and come up empty-handed. So Bisk came up with Prude.
So the reason Prude's name never made it into the MJS was because the MJS couldn't spend more than a year hyping the looming threat of voter fraud only to dramatize the sad story of a woman whose crime was to make a mistake she then tried to correct.
Because writing that story would have suggested their obsession was a mistake -- particularly given they didn't spend a whit of time investigating Republican dirty tricks. And so it took an East Coast newspaper to tell the people of Milwaukee about the fraudsters St. Steven was protecting them from.
And as the Brawler writes this, the JS online got pretty hyped up about voter fraud -- ie felons voting -- with this story about the County charging somebody. To which the Brawler says: Yawn. No, felons who are still on probation should not vote. But anybody who suggests ignorant felons voting constitutes a threat to our republic is a crackpot. And if the US Attorney scandal has taught us anything, it's that efforts of voter suppression organized by our federal government were the most serious act of electoral misconduct going back several years now. Maybe someday the MJS will figure that out.