Wisconsin Investigates Lake County Clerk
Racine County district attorney looks into activities of Willard Helander during Wisconsin recall election. State Sen. Garrett recalls earlier incidents with clerk.
A complaint filed against Lake County Clerk Willard Helander with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board arising from her activity during the June 5 recall election was not the first time she has been embroiled in election day controversy.
State Sen. Susan Garrett, D-Lake Forest, recalls disagreements with Helander early in the veteran legislator’s career, including events that led to legislation introduced by Garrett in the Illinois General Assembly.
In the recent Wisconsin incident, an election crime complaint was filed against Helander last week under Chapter 12 of Wisconsin law, according to Reid Magney, the spokesperson for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.
“When a complaint is filed under Chapter 12, I cannot comment or release a copy of the complaint,” Magney said. The Racine County district attorney will investigate the allegations and determine whether or not to bring charges, according to Magney.
A story in the Chicago Tribune indicated a Racine woman, Nicala Aiello, wore a button with the words “Recall Walker” into her polling place when Helander “started berating” her for displaying an electioneering message. Helander had a different recollection.
Aiello Becomes Belligerent
“She became belligerent,” Helander said of the encounter with Aiello. Helander knew wearing buttons into a polling place was a violation of Illinois law. “I was told it is against the law but it is not enforced,” Helander added of the Wisconsin legislation. She described what she learned from an election judge that day in Racine.
Helander went to Racine to observe same-day registration in Wisconsin since she thinks it could come to Illinois. She wanted to see how it worked and whether problems could occur.
“I read a Milwaukee police report that was very disturbing,” Helander said of Wisconsin same-day registration practices. Since similar legislation has been proposed in Illinois, Helander wanted to be prepared.
In 2002, when Garrett first was elected to the state Senate after serving two terms in the House, she recalled how she had to intercede with Helander so that her daughter, Elizabeth Garrett, could vote by absentee ballot. Elizabeth Garrett was in college at the time. Her vote did not count.
“My own daughter had a problem because she signed her name, on the absentee ballot application, E. Garrett instead of Elizabeth Garrett when it was obvious who she was. We had to introduce legislation to keep it from happening again.”
Garrett’s Law Solved Problem
Helander explained that kind of mix-up could not happen today. “Those determinations were made by both party’s election judges in the precinct,” she said. “Now we have trained people in headquarters.”
Garrett introduced the bill to change the law shortly after she became a state senator in 2003 and it passed later that year.
Both Garrett and Helander have different recollections of an incident at Neal School in North Chicago in November 2000, when Garrett was running for her second term as a state representative.
Garrett recollects a disagreement with Helander over allowing people to vote after polls closed at 7 p.m. when they were in line before closing time. Garrett recalls the lines were long because of a lack of equipment in the polling place.
Memories Vary for Helander, Garrett
Helander recollects a confrontation with Garrett that day but denies there was any shortage of equipment.
“I am deeply offended by Sen. Garrett’s accusation,” Helander said. “We assign equipment on a mathematic formula designed by our technical staff. When you bus people to a polling place there are going to be lines.”
Garrett disagreed with Helander’s recollection. “I don’t remember a bus,” Garrett said. “These are working people who live in the precinct. When working people don’t vote early, they vote between 5 and 7. There was no busing.”
What Helander remembers about that election day is a disagreement with Garrett over whether a particular voter had proper identification. “You don’t forget being body blasted by a 300-pound woman,” Helander said of her contact with the particular voter Garrett was defending. Garrett does not remember the incident.