MADISON, Wis. - Four employees hired by a temporary staffing agency to encourage absentee voting for Sen. John McCain in Wisconsin say they were instructed to tell people they were Republican volunteers.
The employees told The Associated Press in interviews on Monday they were hired by Allstaff Labor Group to go door-to-door in the Milwaukee suburbs locating McCain supporters and distributing absentee ballot request forms.
Allstaff recruited the workers under a contract with a consulting firm hired by the Republican Party of Wisconsin to run its absentee ballot program.
The workers claim they were told to say they were GOP volunteers even though they were getting paid $10 an hour for the work. They were required to sign agreements stating they would not speak publicly about their work with anyone including reporters, but they decided to speak out because they were angry they had not been paid for their final few days.
"I told the Republican Party and Allstaff, I wanted to know why we were lying to these residents," said Loyalty Dixon, 26, a Milwaukee resident who worked about two weeks in Waukesha. "I said, isn't that fraudulent? They didn't give me a good explanation. They said, you guys know you're getting paid. Don't worry about it."
She recalled getting praised by Waukesha residents at gas stations and at a McDonald's for being a McCain supporter. Some residents at their doors even asked whether they were getting paid, she said.
"We had to lie to these people and say we were volunteers," she said.
Three other employees shared similar stories on Monday.
"They had us say, 'I'm volunteering for the Republican Party of Wisconsin," said Marquis Mayes, 23. "I asked them, why would we say we were volunteers and we're not? They didn't have an answer for that."
The workers claimed they were owed between $200 and $300 for their last few days of work. They said they needed the money to pay upcoming rent and utility bills; they had found out about the job while they were at a Milwaukee YWCA looking for employment.
Two of the workers said they planned to vote for Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday; two others said they were leaning toward McCain but were unsure now because of the dispute with the Republican Party over their pay.
GOP spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski confirmed there was a dispute over how many hours they worked, and the party's vendor was working to resolve it.
She said the program's managers were instructed to "accurately represent the program," and if that didn't happen it was a mistake. The paid workers may have picked up a script that said they were volunteers since they were working at GOP offices alongside volunteers, she said.
She insisted that if anyone brought the issue to the party's attention it would have been promptly fixed.
"We did not instruct them to misrepresent themselves," she wrote in an e-mail.
Allstaff representatives did not return phone messages.
Allstaff was only one of many temporary staffing firms hired by GOP consulting firm Lincoln Strategy Group to run the party's absentee ballot request distribution program.
Kukowski released a copy of the confidentiality agreement signed by the temporary workers, in which they agreed not to discuss the project "with anyone outside of Lincoln Strategy Group and the Republican Party apparatus.
"In addition," the agreement says, "I acknowledge that I am not authorized to speak to any member of the media (i.e. reporter, journalist, camera crew, etc.) should they inquire about the details of this project."
Kukowski said the agreement was required because workers were handling sensitive personal information about voters.
She said the workers spent three weeks distributing the forms to McCain supporters around the state.
The state's top election official, Kevin Kennedy, said the effort ran into problems in the Green Bay area, with at least one employee turning in numerous absentee ballot distribution forms that were falsified. He said the worker was promptly fired and the local clerk tossed out the forms.
He said he also received complaints that the workers were told to mislead voters into believing they were volunteers. Those complaints have been forwarded to local district attorneys, he said, but it's unclear whether it would be a crime.
"I've heard the argument made that somehow this was falsely facilitating absentee voting but I think that's a stretch," Kennedy said. "I think the issue more is, what does that say about the tactics of a political party? ... I don't think it's illegal to do but it creates all sorts of problems."
Kennedy compared the problems to those seen during voter registration drives by the liberal-leaning group ACORN, which Republicans have accused of voter fraud. Anytime workers are paid for campaign work they have an incentive to cut corners, he said.
You know, this lie would never have come out if McCain hadn't decided it'd be brilliant to yank the GOTV money and splurge on 'WRIGHT IS SKERY' ads.