The Madison teachers’ union continues its battle for open records access.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in a challenge from M-T-I to access union vote records.
Back in 2015, the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission denied a request from Madison Teachers Inc. to the names of which teachers did and didn’t vote in their annual recertification election.
They wanted the names to encourage the districts who hadn’t voted to do so.
Department of Justice lawyer Steven Kilpatrick says those records were denied to protect teachers from voter coercion and intimidation from the union.
He says that public policy of preventing voter intimidation and coercion outweighs any benefit of disclosure.
MTI maintains accessing the names of voters falls under public records law.
But Kilpatrick referenced a case of alleged voter coercion in Racine’s teachers’ union. In these recertification elections, teachers vote electronically, either by phone or on the web. Kilpatrick says in Racine, that electronic method of voting opened the door for coercion.
“It was easy to see based on those allegations how in an electronic voting election, coercion and intimidation could take place.” He goes on to say that there are allegations that union representatives entered teachers’ classrooms either bringing their own computers or asking teachers to use theirs for voting.
But MTI lawyer Susan Crawford says evidence doesn’t point to anything like that happening here in Madison.
She says, “There is no history of voter coercion, harassment, or threats that was demonstrated here for MTI not to receive such records.”
In fact, Crawford says this case would give the WERC a quote “blanket exemption” from the state’s public records law. She says that’s because all its chair, James Scott, would have to prove there’s a possibility for coercion, rather than evidence of it actually happening.
A Dane County judge ruled last year that WERC should have given MTI the voting records.
WORT producer Nina Kravinsky has the story.