By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Eric Weh says he was surprised when he walked out of his polling site Tuesday morning to hear a rising chant.
The 25-year-old West Allis man said he had just finished voting in Wisconsin’s gubernatorial recall election at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School on Orchard Street when he heard a chorus of young voices chanting:
“Barr-ett! Barr-ett!” ostensibly for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democratic challenger to Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
The next moment, Weh said, the children began chanting, “No Walker!! No Walker!!”
The elementary students, Weh said, were standing on a playground, fewer than 40 feet from the polling station.
“I stood there for a few minutes to make sure I was hearing correctly,” he told Wisconsin Reporter. “I thought it was outrageous the students were chanting this on the playground.”
The indignant voter suspects the children didn’t spontaneously erupt in the chant; he believes they were cajoled into doing so by parents or teachers at the school.
“They are children. They don’t understand what’s going on,” he said. “Any ideas they have about politics are going to come from someone else.”
Weh’s complaint was news to Diane Lutzen, secretary at Woodrow Wilson.
Lutzen told Wisconsin Reporter she heard nothing of the sort, and that a playground supervisor told her she didn’t hear a political chant, either.
“No one talks politically around the school kids,” she said, adding that the supervisor would not have encouraged such behavior “in a million years.”
“My guess if she had heard them bashing someone like that she would have stopped it.”
Brian Vissers, communications director for the West Allis School District, said the school had not received any complaints.
“My guess is it would probably be the parents. As a school we don’t do that,” he said, noting parents begin dropping off their children about 8 a.m., before the school day begins a half hour later.
Paul Ziehler, West Allis city administrator and clerk, said he, too, had not heard any complaints about the polling site.
“That should not be going on. I would like to think the school did not condone it, that if it was going on, they tried to stop it. If it was a spontaneous thing the kids did on their own, that’s hard to control,” Ziehler said.
While the elections official said he has never heard of complaints about politicking by elementary school students, he said the alleged chanting would fall under the category of electioneering — illegal under Wisconsin election law.
“It’s the first I’ve heard of it,” he said. “Most of the rules involve signs, wearing buttons, that sort of thing within 100 feet of the polls. I would put this within the same category.”
During Wisconsin’s pitched political battle, which began shortly after Walker began his term in January 2011, there have been reported incidents of adults, even teachers, leading students in protests and demonstrations against Walker.