Two supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry accused an election chairman judge of “forcefully pushing” them down the stairs of the East Washington Avenue pedestrian bridge Tuesday. The election judge said that the Kerry supporters violated state law because they promoted a candidate within 100 feet of the polls.
The two who accused the judge filed a report with the University Police Department.
At approximately 4:30 p.m., student Mandy Huber and University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate Billy Hoekman stood on the south side of the bridge. Earlier, the students said, they placed Kerry-Edwards posters on the metallic west face of the bridge.
Larry Tawil, the Coffman Union precinct election chairman judge who was accused of pushing Huber and Hoekman, said the altercation occurred when he left the polls to vote in his precinct.
“There were complaints this morning from the general public that there was campaigning too close to the polling booths,” he said.
When Tawil saw Huber and Hoekman on the bridge, he said, he “performed his duties as an election judge” and made them move to a legal distance from the polling place – 100 feet.
Earlier in the day, election officials defined the legal boundary as the curb between Coffman Union and Washington Avenue Southeast, Tawil said.
“I had to repeat my justifications for the decision several times, and they still refused to move,” he said.
Tawil said he removed the posters from the bridge. Then, he said, he went to Smith Hall and called police.
By this time, a small crowd had formed, Huber said.
Huber and Hoekman said they were interested in following the law and acted cooperatively.
“We were happy to move to wherever it’s legal to campaign, but (Tawil) wouldn’t tell us where that was,” Huber said.
She said that she welcomed Tawil’s call to the police because the police could tell them where they could stand.
Hoekman said that when Tawil returned from Smith Hall, he became violent.
“He started shoving us and swearing,” Hoekman said.
One shove, he said, pushed him down four stairs.
Though Tawil did not deny the two parties’ claims, he said he was just doing his job.
“They refused to heed to the authority that I exhibited, and I took what I felt to be appropriate action entirely consistent with my duties as election chair judge,” he said.
After the incident, a University police officer directed Huber and Hoekman to the legal distance.
When the police officer left, Huber and Hoekman continued to encourage people to vote for Kerry until polls closed. They stood on the north side of Washington Avenue Southeast, which police said was 106 feet from the legal barrier.