Man frustrated in attempt to help shut-ins vote

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Frank Schultz
Sunday, November 20, 2016

JANESVILLE—A Janesville man who wanted to help shut-ins get ready to vote before the Nov. 8 elections said he was frustrated in his efforts.

Dan Atwood, a retired UW-Rock professor who works at the polls on Election Day and who has helped people in nursing homes vote, decided this year he would help others exercise their right to vote.

Atwood wanted to offer to drive people to City Hall to register to vote or to the Division of Motor Vehicles to get their photo ID cards.

What he needed was an organization to screen phone calls and refer those who needed a ride to him.

He didn't want to expose his personal phone number or name because of the danger of someone mugging him, he said.

So Atwood turned to the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, which initially agreed.

Then an article about Atwood's effort in The Gazette came to the attention of RSVP Executive Director Bob Harlow.

Harlow said he had thought Atwood would be helping people get ID cards they could use for cashing checks and the like, but he said the article made clear Atwood was focused on political activity.

RSVP gets 40 percent of its budget from a federal grant, Harlow said, and that money comes with strings attached.

Two of the major strings require that the organization not engage in political or religious activities, Harlow said.

Atwood had envisioned his effort as nonpartisan, but Harlow said the rules were clear, and what Atwood proposed was considered political.

“I told him we were at serious risk of losing our funding,” Harlow said, adding that he feels bad but could do nothing about it.

The League of Women Voters also saw the article, said Christy Marsden, a vice president in the local organization, and members contacted Atwood about him giving rides on Election Day, which is something he could not do because he would be at the polling place all day, he said.

The league has no local office or staff, so it couldn't help Atwood, either, Marsden said.

Atwood wrote a letter to The Gazette this week, telling his story and suggesting that something be done for the next elections.

Atwood referred to an organization called VoteRiders, which helped people get photo IDs in Madison. He suggested someone in Janesville start a local chapter.

VoteRiders describes itself at voteriders.org as a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that wants to ensure all citizens are able to exercise their right to vote.

Atwood said if someone starts the chapter, he will join.

But those who can't get out of their homes still have an option.

Rock County Clerk Lori Tollefson said people can register to vote by mail up to 20 days before an election, by contacting their municipal clerk.

Those people can vote by absentee ballot, also done through the mail, and if they qualify as “indefinitely confined,” they are exempt from the photo ID law, Tollefson said.

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