MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Two years ago, the city of Racine became the first — and only — municipality in Wisconsin to purchase a mobile voting truck.
City Clerk Tara McMenamin said she pushed for the truck because it was too difficult to set up equipment at remote sites for early in-person voting. The city used the truck for the first time for municipal elections this past spring. No one seemed to pay any attention.
But with a slate of hot races on the battleground state's Aug. 9 fall primary ballot, including GOP primaries for governor, attorney general and secretary of state, conservatives online have in recent days raised questions about the truck, asking how such an operation can be legal and accusing Democrats of using the truck to cheat.
Here's a closer look at some of their claims:
CLAIM: Racine has been using multiple mobile voting vans since June 2021.
THE FACTS: There's only one truck, and it wasn't used until this year. The Common Council approved funding for one truck to serve as a movable early voting site in June 2020. The city used it for the first time in the state's spring primary this past February, McMenamin said.
CLAIM: The city bought the truck using “Zuckerbucks” from the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life.
THE FACTS: It's correct that the truck was purchased using money from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, according to Racine Mayor Cory Mason's chief of staff, Shannon Powell. The nonprofit seeks to help election officials update technology and to increase civic participation and got a $350 million donation in 2020 from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife.
Wisconsin’s five largest cities all received CTCL grants in 2020. Racine was one of them, accepting almost $950,000.
Some conservatives have derided the CTCL grants as “Zuckerbucks” and called them election bribery, saying they tilted the 2020 presidential election toward Democrat Joe Biden. But judges have rejected legal challenges to the grants.
CLAIM: The truck has been functioning as an absentee ballot drop box in defiance of a state Supreme Court ruling in July outlawing them.
THE FACTS: No, it hasn't. McMenamin said the truck is used only to facilitate early in-person voting during the two weeks prior to an election as per state law. She wanted the truck because it was becoming too cumbersome for her staff to set up their equipment in remote polling sites.
The city posts notices at City Hall, online and in the Racine Journal Times newspaper of the truck's planned stops, meeting a requirement in state law that municipalities give public notice of the times and locations of early in-person voting sites, McMenamin said. Often the truck parks outside of buildings that have traditionally been used as early voting sites such as community centers, she said. Using the truck allows voting at the site without interrupting functions within the building, she said.
People can walk up to the truck, register to vote if they haven't done so, vote in one of the truck's five built-in booths and hand their ballot to a city staff member manning the vehicle, she said. The ballots are then secured in a locked container. People can turn in absentee ballots at the truck, just as they're allowed to do at brick-and-mortar early voting sites, but the truck doesn't have a slit for a drop box and isn't available 24 hours a day like a drop box, McMenamin said.
CLAIM: The city doesn't allow Republican observers in the truck, enabling Democrats to cheat.
THE FACTS: False. McMenamin said state law allows observers to watch in-person early voting, so observers are allowed in the truck. She said GOP observers have been in the truck since the fall primary early in-person voting window opened July 26th.
“It would be exactly the same as if it was in the brick and mortar (early voting site),” she said. “(I would tell) people who are more skeptical of the process, this follows state law.”
If election observers feel they've been unjustly barred or thrown out of an early voting site, they can file a complaint with the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
Some online blogs claimed Democrats were staffing the truck and would cast “phony ballots” from it. But the truck is staffed by city election officials and has the same rules as any other early voting site.
This is part of AP's effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.