RACINE — A rival mayoral candidate filed a complaint alleging that Racine Mayor Cory Mason violated state elections law with the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC).
The complaint, filed last week before the primary election by Jim DeMatthew, claims that Mason broke the law “by actively engaging in prohibited electioneering activities.” Specifically, the complaint contends that the Mayor hosted and was at a campaign-sponsored event at the same time and location as an official City of Racine alternate voting site.
Friends of DeMatthew for Mayor announced the filing on its Facebook page and posted a news release on the WisPolitics.com website on Monday.
DeMatthew finished third with 27% of the vote in Tuesday’s election and will not be on the April 4 Spring election ballot. Mason, who received 42% of the vote, will face Henry Perez, who had 30%.
There were 8,253 votes cast in the mayoral primary, according to unofficial results from the Racine County Clerk.
According to the complaint provided to the Racine County Eye by the DeMatthew campaign this week, Mason’s re-election campaign held a door-to-door canvassing event at Wilson’s Coffee & Tea, 3306 Washington Ave., on Saturday, Feb.11, at the same time that the city’s Mobile Election Unit was conducting in-person absentee voting while parked in front of the business.
Wisconsin election law defines electioneering as “any activity which is intended to influence voting at an election.”
The complaint added that electioneering is prohibited “within 100 feet of an entrance to a building containing the municipal clerk’s office or an alternate site.”
The Mobile Elections Unit’s 9 a.m. to noon Feb. 11 stop outside of Wilson’s was among 18 locations where the vehicle was set up for early voting in the city between Feb. 7 and Feb. 18. The Mobile Elections Unit, staffed by the City of Racine poll workers, is a former paratransit bus equipped with a wheelchair lift to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The DeMatthew campaign contends that Mason knew in advance that the Mobile Election Unit would be at Wilson’s site while its planned campaign activity was taking place. The complaint pointed to a Feb. 7 Mason campaign email inviting supporters to participate in the door-to-door canvassing event with two shifts launching from 9 a.m. and noon on Feb. 11 at Wilson’s. The complaint also cited the schedule of the Mobile Election Unit, announced on the City of Racine’s Facebook page and the city’s “Vote Racine” website.
Mason was inside Wilson’s at least part of the time that the Mobile Election Unit. A photo attached to the complaint shows the Mayor seated inside the coffee shop with the election vehicle visible through the front window.
“He was caught red-handed. Other concerned citizens were there and pointed it out,” said DeMatthew.
“As I understand it, once he (Mason) realized that people were photographing him, he cleared out.”
DeMatthew said he was given the video and still photos of Mason at Wilson’s. The complaint described the video showing the Mayor, his campaign manager and printed campaign materials on a table.
“If Mayor Cory Mason was not at the polling location to vote, and was not at the polling location to observe, and did not patronize the business where his campaign event and the city’s in-person absentee alternate voting site, there only one option remains: Mayor Cory Mason was there to influence voting in an election where he is a candidate on the ballot at an alternate voting site – a clear violation of Wis. Stat. 12.03,” the complaint stated.
Mason: ‘Grasping at straws’
For his part, Mason dismissed DeMatthew’s allegations.
“I wasn’t electioneering,” Mason said Tuesday evening while waiting for the primary election results. “I think they’re grasping at straws.”
Perez and social media
Perez, meanwhile, also received the Feb. 11 photos taken at Wilson’s. Instead of taking steps to file a complaint with the WEC, he posted a photo and comments on his campaign’s Facebook page.
On Tuesday evening, he told the Racine County Eye that his supporters had planned a complaint filing with the WEC but needed details.
“I didn’t want to be the person complaining. I just put it out there for people to see,” Perez said of the picture posted to the Henry Perez for Mayor Facebook page on Feb. 11.
“So, the Mayor is at Wilson’s tea (sic) while the voting van is parked out front. Ethical maybe. Tactical for sure,” the post stated.
An individual who violates the state law against electioneering is subject to a fine of not more than $1,000, 6 months in jail or both.
Riley Vetterkind, a WEC spokesperson, said this week that the agency’s legal staff reviews complaints received by the agency before a decision is made to post it on the agency’s website.
“It takes a few days to a week to determine a complaint’s status,” he said.
The WEC may refer complaints alleging criminal activity to a district attorney for possible prosecution. He added that WEC protocol prevents him from discussing specific complaints.
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