| Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Bango, Bernie Brewer and the Famous Racing Sausages are officially on notice.
Andrew Hitt, chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, has sent a letter to Milwaukee officials saying it would be illegal to have any mascots or players at Fiserv Forum or Miller Park when they are used as early voting locations before the November general election.
Hitt said in his Tuesday letter that state law prohibits “electioneering” at such locations. A get-out-the-vote effort — presumably by using Bango and the Racing Sausages to entice people to the early voting sites — would constitute electioneering, he argued.
“All of the Bucks’ and Brewers’ athletes and mascots are, of course, beloved of their fans, so their presence at a venue is undoubtedly something of significant value,” Hitt wrote. “Consequently, it would be inappropriate for them to be at Miller Park or Fiserv Forum while those venues are in use as alternate absentee ballot sites.”
Fiserv Forum is expected to be an indoor early voting location while Miller Park is envisioned as a drive-thru where voters can cast their ballots beginning Oct 20. Neither location will be used for voting on Election Day, Nov. 3.
Claire Woodall-Vogg, executive director of the city Election Commission, said she had referred the letter to city lawyers.
“My initial reaction is, I don’t know what value a mascot would have in a parking lot as far as enticing voters somewhere,” Woodall-Vogg said Wednesday. “It’s certainly nonpartisan and not telling anyone how to vote.”
On Sept. 22, the city held a drive-through voter registration event for five hours on the Miller Park grounds. The racing sausages were present at the event.
“It would be ludicrous to think that that was electioneering,” Woodall-Vogg said.
The Milwaukee Bucks declined to comment on the issue.
Tyler Barnes, a spokesman for the Brewers, said Wednesday that he was aware of Hitt’s letter. “We do not have plans to have mascots or players in attendance,” Barnes said.
Michael Maistelman, an election lawyer who does work for the Democratic Party, said Hitt swung and missed with his letter. Maistelman said it is not electioneering if the players and mascots are not campaigning. As long as they do not distract or disturb voters, he said, their presence at the two early voting sites should be permitted.
But Maistelman said it is clear what Hitt’s true intent is: Keeping down the number of people who cast ballots in Democratic-heavy Milwaukee during a presidential election. President Donald Trump faces off against former Vice President Joe Biden next month.
“You know Trump is panicking when his lawyers object to the Brewers and Bucks mascots, the Racing Sausages and Bango,” Maistelman said. “Who’s next — SpongeBob?”
State Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler called Hitt’s letter “laughable.”
But in an interview Wednesday, Hitt stood by his letter, saying officials need to make certain that no one is “electioneering” at Miller Park or Fiserv Forum. He said the city was already late in selecting these venues as early voting locations.
“We just wanted to make sure everyone understood what the rules of the game are,” Hitt said, noting that the Bucks and Brewers are probably not very familiar with election law.
“Obviously, it sounds a little silly to be concerned about Racing Sausages or anything like that,” Hitt continued. “I get that. But the reality is there is a line. You can’t give anything of value to people to come in to vote.”
The letter comes just days after Republicans objected to Madison officials holding an event called Democracy in the Park in which voters dropped off absentee ballots at Madison-area parks. Officials reported that more than 10,000 absentee ballots were dropped off, with poll workers stationed at the parks on Saturday. Another event is planned for Oct. 3.
An attorney for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) argued that the park event is an “illegal collection of ballots” and “falls outside lawful categories.”
Contact Daniel Bice at (414) 224-2135 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @DanielBice or on Facebook at fb.me/daniel.bice.