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Wisconsin drops ID checks at federally funded food pantries

A person puts an item in a cart filled with milk and other food items.

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Click here to read highlights from the story
  • The state Department of Health Services is changing procedures for the 265 Wisconsin food pantries that participate in The Emergency Food Assistance Program, which provides certain healthy foods that pantry donations don’t always cover.
  • The state previously required workers at those pantries to check IDs of every person in a household and verify the person lived in the pantry’s county. The new rules — designed to improve food access — do not allow pantries to ask for identification or verify addresses.
  • Some pantry directors support the change. Others fear they could create local food shortages. Some wonder how to accommodate a potential influx of out-of-county clients and track important demographic information.
  • State officials say no problems have been identified in the 35 other states that already lack identification requirements.
Listen to Addie Costello’s story from WPR.

Wisconsin’s emergency food pantries can now decide whether to check clients’ identification and verify their addresses. By October, the state will require them to stop asking. 

The change will improve access to a key federal program, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said. Some pantry coordinators support the changes, but others counter that it could complicate their work. They say the state has yet to answer important questions.

Several coordinators voiced concerns when the health department last month announced changes that affect 265 state food pantries that accept food from The Emergency Food Assistance Program, or TEFAP. The federally funded program provides healthy foods that pantry donations don’t always cover, including milk, eggs, meat, fresh fruits and vegetables. Most participating pantries rely on the program for a significant amount of their food.

The overhaul comes as demand for emergency food surges following the expiration of extra FoodShare benefits during the pandemic. 

The state previously required pantry workers to check IDs of every person in a household and verify the person lived in the pantry’s county. While pantries made exceptions for certain vulnerable groups with less access to IDs and fixed addresses, requesting that information creates unnecessary obstacles to food, supporters of the change say.

“We want to make sure people have an equitable and dignified way to receive food and we feel like the less information gathering in that regard that’s allowable, the better,” a health department spokesperson said.

With the change, Wisconsin joins 35 other states, including neighboring Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan, where TEFAP pantries don’t ask for ID.

Some anti-hunger advocates say eliminating ID checks could create local food shortages. Others support the change but worry about how to accommodate a potential influx of out-of-county clients and track demographic information about their visitors.

‘A horrible feeling’ to be turned away

Emma Tomberlin started experiencing homelessness in Madison 10 years ago. Someone stole her ID at the time, and she couldn’t afford a replacement, she said. 

She didn’t realize a local pantry would ask for identification before distributing food and hygiene products. After coordinating a ride one day and waiting in line, she said, the pantry turned her away.

“To realize that I was not worthy of food because I didn’t have an ID, and to be told that and to be turned away hungry, is just a horrible feeling,” Tomberlin said. 

She moved into her own apartment about two years ago, but she’s still not sure she could gather the paperwork the pantry’s website says it requires.

Shelves full of bags of cereal
A shelf full of cereal is shown at the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry in Oshkosh, Wis., on May 9, 2024. Wisconsin’s emergency food pantries can now decide whether to check clients’ identification and verify their addresses. By October, the state will require them to stop asking. The overhaul comes as demand for emergency food surges following the expiration of extra FoodShare benefits during the pandemic. (Shane Fitzsimmons for Wisconsin Watch)

Under the previous state requirements, Wisconsin’s emergency pantries would still serve people without proper documentation during initial visits but, in rare cases, might block those who repeatedly returned without verifying their address. Unhoused people, undocumented immigrants and survivors of domestic abuse had additional leeway, guaranteeing service even on repeat visits without full documentation.

But perceptions matter just as much as procedure when it comes to food access, said Joli Guenther, executive director of the Wisconsin Association for Homeless and Runaway Services. She supports the eased state requirements.

Asking for an ID might discourage people most in need from showing up, Guenther said.

“We do want food pantries to be as low barrier as possible because that’s such an immediate need.”

Fears of food shortages

TEFAP makes emergency food aid available to households who make no more than twice the federal poverty level. That’s $40,880 annually for a two-person household.

Even before the latest changes, clients could self-declare their income without bringing proof. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the state required pantries to collect client signatures attesting to their eligibility. Safety concerns during the pandemic halted the requirements, although some pantries later resumed collecting signatures. 

That included Milwaukee-based Hunger Task Force, an anti-hunger nonprofit that relies on TEFAP for about half of its food bank supply. The signature requirement discouraged people from untruthfully claiming eligibility or inflating their household size — increasing the likelihood that food would go to people most in need, Hunger Task Force CEO Sherrie Tussler said.

Pantries may no longer collect such signatures under the state changes. That will make it virtually impossible to stop people from taking food they don’t need, Tussler contends.

“It’s completely ungoverned,” Tussler said. “Nobody’s answering the question, what’s really going to happen when we have food shortages?”

State officials don’t expect that to happen. The state health department found no shortages in surrounding states that lack identification and signature requirements, a spokesperson said.

A woman wearing a shirt that says "Eating FOR TWO" grabs a potato in a bin full of potatoes.
An expectant mother gathers potatoes at the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry in Oshkosh, Wis., on May 9, 2024. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services says eliminating identification checks and address verification at Wisconsin’s emergency food pantries will broaden access to food during high demand. Some pantry leaders worry about unintended consequences. (Shane Fitzsimmons for Wisconsin Watch)

Channel One Regional Food Bank, which serves residents of 13 Minnesota counties and Wisconsin’s La Crosse County, has faced no issues abiding by an honor system in Minnesota, said Virginia Witherspoon, its executive director.

“This truly gets down to what you believe about people, and if you believe that people are trying to take advantage of a system,” she said. “We don’t see that.” 

Among supporters of loosened identification requirements: Melissa Larson, food access and resource program manager at West CAP, which serves seven western Wisconsin counties.

In small-town pantries like West CAP’s, workers already know their clients on a first-name basis, and ID checks only create obstacles.

“In a rural area, it’s completely different,” Larson said.

Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, which operates pantries in rural, urban and suburban areas of northeast Wisconsin and around Milwaukee, also welcomes the changes.

“We expect that the good this program will accomplish, the new enrollments and access this would facilitate, the increased ease of distribution, and the increased dignity and compassion this would provide to the participant will greatly outweigh the potential risk,” John Zhang, the organization’s director of community and government relations, told WPR and Wisconsin Watch in an email.

Expanded options for pantry clients 

Ryan Rasmussen, executive director of the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry, doesn’t expect people to start taking food they don’t need. 

“We get this question asked a lot about, ‘How many folks do you think are actually taking advantage of your pantry?’ And quite honestly, my response is zero,” he said.

But Rasmussen worries the revised guidelines will increase visits from outside of Winnebago County.

The federal government distributes emergency foods to pantries based on local poverty and unemployment rates. New state rules will allow clients to regularly visit any pantry statewide — even if it lies outside of their home county.

Rasmussen sees the potential for mismatches between resources and demands on some pantries during a time of growing demand.

Ryan Rasmussen looks at and types on a laptop on a desk.
Ryan Rasmussen, executive director of the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry, seen on May 9, 2024, doesn’t expect people to start taking food they don’t need when the state eliminates identification checks at pantries participating in The Emergency Food Assistance Program. “We get this question asked a lot about, ‘How many folks do you think are actually taking advantage of your pantry?’ And quite honestly, my response is zero,” he says. (Shane Fitzsimmons for Wisconsin Watch)

While health department officials see no evidence that the new guidelines will spur a spike in cross-county visits, they will explore other food distribution models if issues arise, a spokesperson said.

Oshkosh Area Community Pantry saw a 70% increase in usage between 2022 and 2023, Rasmussen said. The pantry last year served 800 households from outside of Winnebago County. Workers then could refer those clients to options in their home county for future visits — easing demands on local resources, Rasmussen said. 

“The need is definitely growing and it’s definitely great,” Rasmussen said. “We’re doing all that we can to make sure that we stay ahead of it.” 

For Kenneth Tackett, two monthly visits to the Oshkosh pantry cover most of his needs, and there’s no reason to visit other pantries. 

“It’s where I get my bread, vegetables, potatoes, meat,” he said. “I feel blessed to have the availability to be able to do something like this.”

Kenneth Tackett, wearing a green Wisconsin sweatshirt and jeans, puts an item in a cart next to shelves filled with food.
Kenneth Tackett of Oshkosh feels “blessed to be able to do something like this” as he visits the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry in Oshkosh, Wis., on May 9, 2024. Tackett relies almost exclusively on the local pantry for bread, meat and vegetable needs and sees the benefit of increasing accessibility. (Shane Fitzsimmons for Wisconsin Watch)

Federal aid important for many pantries

Most pantries rely on a mixture of TEFAP, food banks, grocery stores and donations. The federal program was an important source of food for 89% of pantries participating in the program, according to a state health department survey. 

Nearly a quarter of participating pantries get most or all of their food from the federal program, the survey showed. Most participants call the program’s food “very healthy.” 

The state health department says loosening restrictions for pantry visitors might expand pantry participation. Most pantries that don’t participate have “quite a bit” or “a great deal” of concern with program requirements and associated paperwork, survey responses show.

Most participating pantries reported no issues with requirements and reporting, and multiple pantry directors worry about losing mechanisms to collect information needed to apply for funding. 

People sit in rows of chairs near an overhead sign that says "Registration." To the right is an Oshkosh Area Community Pantry sign with hours of operation.
Visitors wait to register at the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry in Oshkosh, Wis., on May 9, 2024. The food bank currently serves 2,300 families per month, up from 1,300 two years ago. It’s one of 265 Wisconsin pantries that accept food from The Emergency Food Assistance Program, funded by the federal government. (Shane Fitzsimmons for Wisconsin Watch)

The Sharing Center, a rural food pantry in Kenosha County, gets about 90% of its food from donations, with 10% coming from TEFAP, said Sharon Pomaville, the organization’s executive director.

Donors often question whether the pantry is “a free-for-all” that doesn’t scrutinize who receives assistance, Pomaville said.

Pomaville added in an email that she expects her organization to opt out of the federal program “because it’ll gut our pantry, and not allow us to collect data that allows us to secure critical programmatic grants for seniors, children, and veterans.”

State officials say pantries can still collect data, such as the ages of their clients, for food not associated with the federal program. But workers must clarify the questions aren’t required for TEFAP foods — potentially requiring pantries to adopt different procedures for different types of foods.

Some pantry leaders feel out of the loop

Some pantry leaders say they felt excluded from the state’s decision-making process, and they were surprised to find an updated TEFAP client form on the health department website before officials told them about the changes directly. 

The pantry directors currently lack access to an updated procedure manual, which the health department plans to publish in October.

People look at and reach for food items past open glass doors. Above is an image of pizzas between the words "Dinners & Desserts" and "Froz."
Visitors to the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry in Oshkosh, Wis., gather frozen items on May 9, 2024. The Emergency Food Assistance Program, funded by the federal government, provides participating food banks with essentials like milk, eggs, meat, and fresh fruits and vegetables. (Shane Fitzsimmons for Wisconsin Watch)

A spokesperson said the health department asked regional TEFAP coordinators in November for feedback on the changes but heard little criticism until the department announced the changes in April.

“If the whole state would have come back to us with challenges, I think we would have had to look at this a lot closer,” the department spokesperson said.

Shane Fitzsimmons contributed reporting. This story comes from a partnership of Wisconsin Watch and WPR. Addie Costello is WPR’s Mike Simonson Memorial Investigative Reporting Fellow embedded in the newsroom of Wisconsin Watch.

Wisconsin drops ID checks at federally funded food pantries is a post from Wisconsin Watch, a non-profit investigative news site covering Wisconsin since 2009. Please consider making a contribution to support our journalism.

Rural Wisconsin voters face additional hurdles without ballot drop boxes

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Click here to read highlights from the story
  • Since the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that absentee ballot drop boxes are illegal, there has been a reported increase in ballots being turned in too late to count.
  • Rural voters in particular are disadvantaged by the lack of drop boxes because they often have only one election clerk who can receive absentee ballots and U.S. mail service has declined.
  • Elected clerks throughout Wisconsin support reinstating drop boxes, which the new liberal majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court could do after it hears a case Monday.

If voters in Burnside, Wisconsin, want to drop off their absentee ballots before an election, they have to go several miles outside of town, down a hilly, rural county road that requires four-wheel drive most of the year, and to the doorway or mailbox of Melissa Kono’s house.

Kono is the part-time clerk for Burnside, a 500-person town in the western part of the state. She mostly works from home since Burnside’s town hall does not have internet service.

Ideally, she said, there would be a ballot drop box at the town hall, which is conveniently located along a major highway. A drop box would also give absentee voters another alternative to mailing ballots, which can be slow in rural Wisconsin, Kono said.

But the Wisconsin Supreme Court banned the use of ballot drop boxes in 2022, ruling that state law required absentee ballots to be returned by mail or in person to the municipal clerk. In Burnside, that means getting it to Kono’s residence.

On Monday Wisconsin Supreme Court justices will hear arguments in a lawsuit alleging the court incorrectly interpreted state law in that earlier decision. Ahead of the hearing, Votebeat has found that the absence of drop boxes often made elections more logistically complicated, not only for voters, but also for municipal clerks.

“I’m not a full-time clerk. I get paid a small stipend for doing this,” Kono said. “I’m not going to sit down at the town hall all the time because I have to have a full-time other job. So I would like a drop box, just for convenience for both voters and for myself.” 

The challenges can be pronounced for people living in the hundreds of Wisconsin municipalities where clerks work part-time, leaving voters with a limited time window to return a ballot in person. The state’s ban on unattended drop boxes has coincided with an increase in reports of absentee ballots showing up too late to be counted.

Outstate voters would stand to gain especially from the reintroduction of drop boxes as a way to cast an absentee ballot, said Daniel Griffith, senior policy director at Secure Democracy USA, noting that rural Wisconsin counties have just one in-person polling location every 34 square miles, compared with one every 13 square miles in suburban counties.

Rural voters also tend to be older, and more of them live with a disability, which “all compounds and makes it that much more important that rural voters especially have access to these ways to cast ballots,” said Peter Skopec, an advocacy director for the group.

About two-thirds of Wisconsin voters favored having “secure and convenient drop off places for absentee ballots which would be accessible 24 hours a day,” a Secure Democracy Foundation poll conducted in November 2023 found.

Meanwhile, more than three-quarters of clerks in Wisconsin support allowing at least one ballot drop box per municipality, according to a 2021 survey by Barry Burden, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Elections Research Center. More than half favored allowing municipalities to set up at least one, and as many drop boxes as they would like, while 22% said they would prefer to outlaw them.

Andrew Mercil, an appointed Democratic clerk in rural, mostly Republican Dunn County, said he and many other election officials across rural Wisconsin want drop boxes back “for not only ease of voters to be able to participate in democracy, but also so that it helps them with the collection of absentee ballots.”

Other rural clerks acknowledged the risks and hassles associated with the ban, but said that for varied reasons, they oppose lifting it.

Drop boxes: Popular in 2020, banned in 2022

Many municipalities embraced drop boxes beginning in 2020 after the Wisconsin Elections Commission, understanding drop boxes to be legal, pointed to them as a way for clerks to make sure Wisconsin residents could still vote while avoiding polling places during the height of the pandemic. Some clerks had already been using drop boxes for over 10 years, a commission report states.

For the 2020 presidential election, Wisconsin had 528 absentee ballot drop boxes in about 430 communities. By 2021, there were 570.

A ballot drop box outside a fire station says “TRUTH IS POWERFUL AND WILL PREVAIL. Sojourner Truth”
A ballot drop box is seen in 2022 outside a Madison Fire Department station at 1217 Williamson St. in Madison, Wis. (Matt Mencarini / Wisconsin Watch)

But opposition to drop boxes swelled after Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, and Wisconsin flipped to the Democratic column after favoring Donald Trump in 2016. Conservative Trump supporters alleged that Democrats used drop boxes to gain an electoral advantage, even though the boxes existed across the state, in heavily Democratic and Republican areas. 

A conservative group sued the state in 2021, seeking a declaration that voters can return absentee ballots only by mail or by handing them directly to a clerk or a representative of a clerk — not to a drop box. A Waukesha judge ruled in the group’s favor in early 2022, and a divided Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the ruling.

Some Trump supporters believe the ruling means drop boxes were illegal in the 2020 election, but the court ruling wasn’t retroactive.

Now, liberal group Priorities USA and other plaintiffs are asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court — this time, with a liberal majority — to reverse the ban. 

How drop boxes help rural voters overcome challenges

Some clerks in rural Wisconsin told Votebeat drop boxes could lower barriers that they and voters face because of limited work hours and mail delays.

Under current Wisconsin law, voters must hand or mail their absentee ballots to a clerk.

In Burnside, mailing ballots raises issues because the U.S. Postal Service routes the town’s mail through Minnesota, Kono said. A few days’ delay in the mail could cause ballots to show up late. Wisconsin ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on election day.

“The window for absentee voting isn’t really all that big,” she said. “It’s fine if you know you’re going to be gone, but if something comes up, it’s not unreasonable that people are going to realize at the last minute that they need an absentee ballot. And now there’s not enough time to do this convoluted process.”

Drop boxes would have come in handy in the August 2022 election, around the time the entire staff of a post office serving Dunn County quit, said Mercil, the clerk. Workers from neighboring post offices came in to help, but there was a risk at the time that ballots sent by mail wouldn’t be delivered on time, Mercil said.  

In that election, 20 absentee ballots (not including those sent to military and overseas Wisconsin residents or in-person absentee ballots) showed up at the clerk’s office too late to count, according to results reported to the Wisconsin Elections Commission. In the higher-turnout November 2022 election, only three Dunn County absentee ballots showed up too late to count.

Carolyn Loechler, the town clerk of Elk Mound in Dunn County, said she should be able to rely on the Postal Service but has sometimes seen weeklong delivery delays. She acknowledged USPS, like many other employers in rural areas, faced worker shortages.

But Loechler said she’s against drop boxes because she works from home and doesn’t want to have to drive to collect ballots from a drop box. 

In a brief submitted to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in favor of drop boxes, several clerks pointed to Elcho, a town of about 1,200 people in northern Wisconsin, as an example of an election office that would benefit from legalizing drop boxes. Elcho’s town office is open just six hours a week.

Elcho Clerk Lyn Olenski said she gets by just fine without drop boxes and doesn’t feel strongly for or against them because voters can always hand her their ballots.

“Everybody has access to my cell phone number. I live five minutes from the town hall,” she said. “I work another job right across from the town hall. They know they can call me at any time, and I will meet them here anytime.”

Ballots end up in the wrong place

The ban on ballot drop boxes has sometimes confused voters who were accustomed to using them in previous elections. In some cases, that means their votes don’t get counted. Trenton Clerk Heather Krueger said that in every election since the 2022 ban, she has found a couple of ballots in the town’s utility bill drop box, even though she has instructed voters not to do that.

A girl reaches for the handle of a ballot drop box.
Madison resident River Horn, 6, drops the absentee ballot belonging to her father, Brad Horn, into a ballot drop box on Williamson Street in Madison, Wis., on Oct. 24, 2020. Since then the Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled that voters must return their ballots directly to a clerk. (Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch)

To help make sure those votes can still count, Krueger said she contacts those voters and lets them know that state law now requires them to return absentee ballots over the mail or in person to the clerk. Sometimes she drives to the voter’s house.

“It’s kind of silly,” she said. “You just have to hand it to them, and then they … hand it back to us.”

In other instances, though, Krueger found ballots in the utility bill drop box on an election day, or the the night before, and didn’t have time to alert the voters. In those cases, those ballots didn’t count.

“It’s disappointing for everybody when a ballot is returned (last-minute), but not correctly, and we don’t have enough time to notify them of that,” she said. Still, she’s opposed to reinstituting drop boxes because she says there’s less control over who’s returning the ballots.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in 2022 that voters can return only their own ballot in person to a municipal clerk. The same applies to voters returning ballots by mail, Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe said. There’s an exception allowing Wisconsin residents with disabilities to get help returning absentee ballots from a person they choose, but it can’t be their employer, or a representative of their employer or union.

Voter groups see value in rural drop boxes

Voting rights groups continue to favor drop boxes as a way to ensure access to the ballot for rural voters.

Drop boxes were used in rural communities well before the pandemic, said Eileen Newcomer, voter education manager at the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, which submitted a brief in the ongoing lawsuit in favor of drop boxes.

They helped accommodate rural voters who live far from their clerk’s office, she said, and provide a way around mail delays that affect rural communities.

In general elections since 2020, the number of absentee ballots (not including special ballots transmitted to military or overseas Wisconsin voters or in-person absentee ballots) that clerks say showed up at their offices too late to count has increased, according to publicly posted data from the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The commission notes that its data, however, is likely incomplete because it relied on clerks’ voluntary reporting to the commission.

The pattern is consistent with the idea that absentee ballot drop boxes help facilitate the timely return of votes, said Burden, the UW-Madison professor.

“It’s probably not making people go out and vote just because the drop box happens to be in their community,” Burden said. “But once they’ve got a ballot in their hands at home, and they’re thinking about … if they’re going to get it back in time, having a drop box just provides that extra option, and it has some benefits because it cuts out the Postal Service as the intermediary and ensures they’re going to make the deadline.”

Are drop boxes legal? Two opposing interpretations

After the 2020 election, conservatives seized on mail voting, and drop boxes in particular, as potential tools for voter fraud. Trump himself said drop boxes were “only good for Democrats and cheating.” 

But there’s no evidence that absentee ballot drop boxes were used to commit widespread fraud in Wisconsin. And the way they were used would have made it nearly impossible.

Wisconsin clerks processed absentee ballots from drop boxes just as they did any other absentee vote, including those sent through the mail. With narrow exceptions for military voters, election officials send absentee ballots only to Wisconsin residents who are confirmed to have registered to vote with a valid ID.

Before opening a ballot envelope deposited in a drop box, election officials would verify that it had witness and voter signatures and a witness address. Then they would open the envelope, verify that the person casting the ballot was qualified to vote and that they hadn’t already voted in the election, and record them on the poll books as having returned their absentee ballot. Only then would they tabulate the vote. 

Other conservatives didn’t assert widespread fraud but said they played to Democrats’ advantage.

One conservative group, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, said in a report that Biden’s margin would have been substantially narrower without drop boxes. That same report found communities with drop boxes averaged 48 more voters than similar communities without them, but that liberal communities were likelier than conservative communities to have drop boxes as a ballot return option.

But the most successful legal argument against them — the one that led to their prohibition  — is that they just aren’t permissible under state law. That’s the argument in play in the current lawsuit challenging the ban.

The opponents of drop boxes cited a Wisconsin law saying absentee ballots must be mailed by the voter or delivered in person to the municipal clerk. In their view, that doesn’t permit returning ballots to a drop box. They also pointed to a broader law stating that while voting is a constitutional right that should be strongly encouraged, “voting by absentee ballot is a privilege … (that) must be carefully regulated to prevent the potential for fraud or abuse.”

Groups advocating for drop boxes say the law doesn’t restrict how or where Wisconsin clerks can receive absentee ballots — indicating drop boxes could be one of those ways. Since Wisconsin law is ambiguous about whether drop boxes are legal, they say, the court should interpret the law in a way that doesn’t burden Wisconsin residents’ constitutional right to vote.

After drop boxes came under intense scrutiny following the 2020 election, including allegations they weren’t legal, Republican lawmakers sought to create a state law expressly authorizing their use.

2021 Senate Bill 209 would have allowed municipalities to have an absentee ballot drop box as long as it connected to the building housing a clerk’s office. The proposal would have allowed an additional three drop boxes in cities with 70,000 or more people.

Multiple voting groups opposed the bill, saying it would reduce the number of drop boxes in large cities like Madison and Milwaukee, since they had more drop boxes than the bill would have allowed, and make it harder for people to vote.

Republicans saw it a different way since they didn’t think drop boxes were legal under state law.

“I’m confused by a lot of statements that have been made because SB 209 allows people to have more access to voting,” then-Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said on the Senate floor. “SB 209 deals with the fact that drop boxes currently are not in statute. They’re not legal. So number one, we’re legalizing drop boxes.”

The bill passed the Senate but never received a vote in the Assembly as Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, appeared poised to veto the proposal. That was less than a year before courts banned the use of drop boxes.

This coverage is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan news organization covering local election administration and voting access. Sign up for Votebeat’s free newsletters here.

Rural Wisconsin voters face additional hurdles without ballot drop boxes is a post from Wisconsin Watch, a non-profit investigative news site covering Wisconsin since 2009. Please consider making a contribution to support our journalism.

Mount Horeb shooting: ‘People in every community need to be mindful of the warning signs’

Police vehicles fill a street.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

In November 1998, two months after joining the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, my first big story was reporting on a school shooting plot at the high school in Burlington, a city of 10,000 residents 40 miles southwest of Milwaukee.

A tip to police led to arrests, stopping students who had planned to kill certain classmates and staff.

It all seemed a bit surreal.

Five months later, I was sent to cover the landmark school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, a city of 40,000 residents in Colorado. Two students killed 13 people — including a 16-year-old John Tomlin, who had spent most of his childhood in Wisconsin — then themselves.

I wrote that, while covering John’s funeral, less than a year after the birth of my daughter, I shed tears on the job for the first time in 15 years as a reporter.

On Wednesday, authorities said police shot and killed a student armed with a weapon outside of the middle school in Mount Horeb, 20 miles southwest of Madison. Affectionately known as “the troll capital of the world,” the village has about 8,000 residents.

News reports identified the student as Damian Haglund, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at the school. ABC News, quoting sources, said he had what appeared to be a long gun. But authorities have released few other details. 

What is clear about school shootings in the U.S. is that, despite feelings of, “I never thought it could happen here,” the worst incidents frequently occur in smaller towns.

Worst school shootings often in smaller towns

Since 1988, the overwhelming majority of U.S. mass school shootings — defined as at least four people shot and at least two killed — have occurred in rural or suburban locations, typically by white male teenagers, said Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox.

“The copycat effect is strongest when there is similarity with the role model,” he said.

According to his data, since 2014, there have been mass school shootings in larger cities such as Nashville, St. Louis and Santa Clarita, California. But six occurred in smaller communities: Uvalde, Texas (15,000); Oxford Township, Michigan (22,000); Santa Fe, Texas (13,000); Parkland, Florida (37,000); Benton, Kentucky (5,000); and Marysville, Washington (72,000).

Eight of the 10 deadliest U.S. school shootings since 1966 happened in communities with a population of less than 50,000, according to researcher David Riedman, founder of the K-12 School Shooting Database.

“What 60 years of these incidents shows is that students of all ages, all different demographics, all different backgrounds, all different levels of academic performance, have committed these attacks,” Riedman said. “So, people in every community need to be mindful of the warning signs.”

He said those include people threatening to hurt themselves or others, or sharing plans or manifestos on social media.

Since Columbine, according to Riedman’s data, 59 school shootings have occurred where four or more people were wounded. 

There have also been 272 “near-misses” — incidents without injuries or deaths, or a shooting with victims killed or injured that had the potential to be much worse.

The Mount Horeb near-miss had similarities to a deadly school shooting in January at Perry High School in Iowa. Perry, 40 miles northwest of Des Moines, also has a population of 8,000. In that incident, a 17-year-old student killed one student and wounded six others. Also wounded was the school principal, who died 10 days later.

It’s worth noting that mass killings occur in private homes much more often than in schools or other public settings, according to Fox.

How Mount Horeb has reacted

Mount Horeb School Board member Adam Mertz, a 25-year resident of the village, heard about the incident in his community in a phone call from his daughter, Siobhan, a junior at the high school, which is across the street from the middle school. 

The schools were locked down into the evening partly over concerns about whether there was an ongoing threat, he said.

“You are shocked, saddened, but not surprised — which is a sad reaction,” Mertz said. “But we spent what we had always hoped was an inordinate amount of time as a board discussing safety measures.” 

Those included putting in place secured entrances, shatterproof glass, a school resource officer, equipment upgrades to enhance police communication inside schools and mental health programs for students.

Two people hug as people gather on grass under a blue sky.
People gather at a site designated for parent and student reunifications following a report of an armed person outside Mount Horeb Middle School in Mount Horeb, Wis., on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. (John Hart / Wisconsin State Journal)

“I think that there is an enormous sense of relief” in the community, Mertz said. “There is enormous pride in the work that our teachers and administrators and police did (Wednesday), and I’ve heard nothing but glowing reaction about how the students handled this whole situation. Everyone did everything they were supposed to do in a situation like this, and that helped prevent us from becoming one of those names.”

There are also thoughts about the student who was killed.

“Because there weren’t additional casualties, I think that a lot of people are placing their focus on the young man who was so distraught that he felt like this was his best option, even after being confronted by police,” Mertz said. 

“I know that that’s tearing apart a lot of people who have just worked tirelessly to elevate mental health as something to care about. To feel like you weren’t able to reach this kid when he clearly needed someone to talk to, I know that that’s weighing on people.”

Wisconsin Watch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom. Subscribe to our newsletters for original stories and our Friday news roundup.

Mount Horeb shooting: ‘People in every community need to be mindful of the warning signs’ is a post from Wisconsin Watch, a non-profit investigative news site covering Wisconsin since 2009. Please consider making a contribution to support our journalism.

What type of Democrat can win in rural Wisconsin?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The race to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Derrick Van Orden in western Wisconsin is on, with three Democratic candidates jostling in a primary that offers voters three distinct paths forward for the general election.

Small-business owner Rebecca Cooke, state Rep. Katrina Shankland and information technology professional Eric Wilson are all running for the Democratic nomination in the 18-county district. Van Orden’s seat is seen by both national and Wisconsin Democrats as a prime flip opportunity to help them win back the U.S. House in November.

Spanning most of western Wisconsin, the district is a mixture of small Democratic-leaning cities — La Crosse, Eau Claire and Stevens Point — and rural Republican communities near the Minnesota border. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report says the race leans Republican, with its Partisan Voter Index indicating the district is slightly more Republican than Democratic.

A vocal critic of President Joe Biden and an ally of former President Donald Trump, Van Orden is a freshman who won his seat in 2022 after longtime Democratic Rep. Ron Kind retired. 

Van Orden has the resources to mount a competitive reelection campaign, though he has attracted negative headlines for his conduct in Washington. For example, he drew bipartisan rebukes after reports surfaced that he yelled and cursed at a group of high school-aged Senate pages. Last week, coming to the defense of House Speaker Mike Johnson on the House floor, Van Orden challenged Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz to file a motion to oust the speaker. Van Orden called Gaetz “tubby” after Gaetz called him a “squish,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Van Orden has sought to appeal to more moderate voters over the past year. For example, after a train derailment in his district last summer, Van Orden introduced legislation that would bolster the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigative abilities.

Cooke, Shankland and Wilson all have a similar reason for getting into the race: They say Van Orden has failed the residents of his district and his constituents deserve a representative who can get things done.

But all three present unique political identities to Democratic primary voters — setting the race up to be a litmus test for Wisconsin Democrats outside of Madison and Milwaukee. Which type of Democrat can win outstate is particularly noteworthy with new legislative districts in place and control of the state Senate potentially on the line in 2026.

Rebecca Cooke
Rebecca Cooke (Courtesy of Rebecca Cooke)

Cooke sells herself as a sort of everywoman. She is leaning hard on her background as the child of dairy farmers and a nonprofit founder, as well as her current experience working a blue-collar job as a waitress. She also has a background working as a political fundraiser.

She’s relying on relationships and campaign infrastructure she built during her first campaign — Cooke came in second in the Democratic primary for the seat in 2022 with 31% support — to help power her to a win in August, Cooke said in an interview with Wisconsin Watch.

Spending her time talking about “bread and butter issues” like health care and housing affordability will help her appeal to the moderate and crossover Republican voters needed to win the seat, Cooke said. So far she has a sizable fundraising advantage over Shankland and Wilson. She noted that strong fundraising will be key in defeating Van Orden in November.

“We’re going to need the bank to be able to win,” she said, adding that her fundraising in the primary will help get the attention and financial support of national Democratic groups if she makes it through the primary.

Katrina Shankland
Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, is seen during Gov. Tony Evers’ first State of the State address in Madison, Wis., on Jan. 22, 2019. (Emily Hamer / Wisconsin Watch)

Shankland, who has served in the Assembly since 2013, is campaigning on her legislative experience. It’s a strategy former Rep. Peter Barca also may use as he seeks to challenge U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil in southeast Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, the other seat Democrats are targeting in the state.

In an interview with Wisconsin Watch, Shankland noted that she has worked on more than 200 bills that have become law during her time in office — all while serving in the minority. Her work on agricultural issues — including conservation projects aimed at improving soil quality and protecting water quality — shows she can pass policy important to people living in the 3rd Congressional District, she said.

“We’ve heard this every day on the trail: Voters value and put a premium on candidates with experience,” Shankland said.

The state representative also pointed to February polling her campaign released showing her running the strongest against Van Orden as evidence she’s the right candidate for the job. Cooke pushed back on that claim, noting the small sample size, and said her campaign plans to produce its own polling in the coming months.

Eric Wilson
Eric Wilson (Courtesy of Eric Wilson)

Wilson, who lags significantly behind both Cooke and Shankland in fundraising, said he is the “progressive voice” in the race.

He is also running to do more than just beat Van Orden in the fall, Wilson said. He’s running to talk about “the difficult issues that people want to hear about.”

Those include Medicare for All — a central element to his campaign. Wilson also wants to advocate for “responsible gun ownership” and more affordable housing, he said.

With three distinct approaches to campaigning on the ballot, the Democratic primary — and how the winner fares against Van Orden — could signal to other campaigns how to approach western Wisconsin in future contests.

What we’re watching this week

Wednesday

🕵️ The Wisconsin Elections Commission holds a public hearing at 1 p.m. on a proposed rule “concerning the conduct, regulation, and accommodation of election observers.” The meeting can be viewed online here.

Thursday

🫏🐘 WisPolitics hosts a luncheon at 11:30 a.m. at the Madison Club with state Republican Party chair Brian Schimming and state Democratic Party chair Ben Wikler. Watch on Wisconsin Eye here.

☀️ The Senate Utilities and Technology Committee hosts a public hearing in Capitol Room 411S at noon with invited speakers on community solar. Speakers include Brandon Smithwood, vice president of policy for Dimension Renewable Energy; JD Smith and John Schulze of Arch Electric and Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin; Zack Hill, senior manager of public affairs for Alliant Energy; and Sarah Moon, co-founder and principal of Fieldworks Power.

🧑‍🎓 PROFS hosts a free forum at 4 p.m. in the Wisconsin Idea Room in the Education Building on the future off flagship universities and how UW-Madison compares with its peer institutions amid cuts to higher education and efforts to scale back diversity efforts, certain curriculum and tenure. Guests include UW education professor Taylor Odle, University of Minnesota education professor David Weerts and journalist Elaine Povich of Stateline.


Forward is a look at the week in Wisconsin government and politics from the Wisconsin Watch statehouse team.

Wisconsin Watch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom. Subscribe to our newsletters for original stories and our Friday news roundup.

What type of Democrat can win in rural Wisconsin? is a post from Wisconsin Watch, a non-profit investigative news site covering Wisconsin since 2009. Please consider making a contribution to support our journalism.

On the heels of staff shortages and fines, new owners are optimistic about future of Scandia Village

Fired for posting on Facebook? Wausau considers new social media guidelines for employees

By Shereen Siewert | Wausau Pilot & Review A new social media policy under discussion this week prohibits city employees from posting statements on social media that could “compromise public confidence” in Wausau, a rule that – if violated – could result in termination. The proposed social media policy is one of several items on […]

The post Fired for posting on Facebook? Wausau considers new social media guidelines for employees appeared first on Wausau Pilot & Review.

Poopspotting: How AI and satellites can detect illegal manure spreading in Wisconsin

Illustration shows satellites above Wisconsin.

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Click here to read highlights from the story
  • Applying manure atop snow or frozen soil heightens the risk of runoff, which can contaminate water, spread pathogens, seed algae blooms and kill fish.
  • Stanford University researchers are using aerial photographs — snapped by satellites orbiting the globe — to teach computers to recognize winter spreading. 
  • Researchers say their model correctly spotted manure in half of the 121 cases that the Department of Natural Resources investigated last winter based upon satellite images researchers sent the DNR’s way. 
  • Environmentalists say the DNR should use the technology to monitor spreading, but one DNR official says doing so would not be worth the effort.

After a fresh February snow, a satellite about the size of a shoebox, busy snapping photographs as it circuited the planet at 17,000 miles per hour, captured something dark in Wisconsin.

About 56 tons of livestock bedding and manure had been spread atop Mark Zinke’s frozen alfalfa field.

The image, beamed down to the surface, eventually appeared on the computers of Stanford University researchers, who relayed it to the offices of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

A staff member looked it over. He decided it was noteworthy and passed along the information to another employee in a nearby city.

Zinke, a Brownsville dairy farmer who cares for a herd of more than 1,300 cows, had forgotten about the whole thing until he later heard from the agency.

“Oh shit,” he recalled thinking at the time. “I mean, it’s just one of those things. I guess we fucked up. We gotta man up to it, right?”

Zinke wasn’t particularly surprised upon hearing that the witnesses to the manure application were Earth-orbiting satellites.

“This day and age,” he said of the government, “they watch us doing everything.”

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is, in fact, not a spacefaring agency.

But aerial imagery collected by a new generation of small, inexpensive satellites is ushering in an era of real-time monitoring. Some environmental advocates want the department to look to the heavens as it regulates earthly happenings. Large livestock farms, a potential water contamination source, could become a surveillance target.

With increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence, such a scenario is hardly a Jetsonian pipe dream.

Scientists from Stanford’s Regulation, Evaluation and Governance Lab are analyzing troves of aerial photographs to teach computers to recognize when farmers butter the land with livestock poop during the winter, a largely restricted but suspectedly pervasive practice in America’s Dairyland.

The research relies upon machine learning, a process in which computers identify patterns to make predictions and decisions, and constellations of commercial satellites that scan Earth’s surface daily. The orbiters photographed the large farms — known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs — during snowy Wisconsin winters. Policymakers consider a livestock farm a CAFO if it houses at least 1,000 “animal units,” the equivalent of 714 dairy cows or 2,500 pigs. 

An excerpt from a 2022 paper from researchers at Stanford University’s Regulation, Evaluation and Governance Lab identifies potential instances of manure spreading. The researchers are utilizing satellite imagery and machine learning to predict the activity during winter. Applying manure atop snow or frozen ground heightens the risk of runoff, which can contaminate water, spread pathogens and kill fish.

Typically, the ground is frozen or snow-covered for 100 to 140 days each Wisconsin winter. Spreading manure atop it increases the chance the material will not fully absorb into the soil. This can lead to surface runoff, which can contaminate water, spread pathogens, seed algae blooms and kill fish.

The researchers selected Wisconsin, in large part, because the state documents CAFO locations and sets hard limits on manure spreading. The department generally curbs CAFO manure application during winter and prohibits the practice outright in February and March unless operators obtain an exemption.

Wisconsin often relies upon citizen watchfulness and self-reporting to protect the environment from illegal spreading, but fields are not always visible from roadsides or neighbors omniscient. Meanwhile, state agencies with limited staff time must prioritize enforcement.

The scientists propose bolstering regulators’ efforts to monitor large livestock farms with satellite imagery and AI — tools that could, advocates hope, be used in any snowy state.

Expanding satellite fleet offers new possibilities

Scientists have used satellites and machine learning to identify CAFOs in North Carolina, trace the expansion of livestock farms in Indiana and map cropland in Wisconsin.

But previous inquiries haven’t scrutinized livestock farms in near-real time.

RegLab researchers in a 2022 study obtained images of 330 CAFO locations across Wisconsin from Planet, a San Francisco-based satellite and data company that uses a fleet of more than 150 orbiters to photograph Earth’s entire land mass. Anyone with an annual subscription — starting at $10,000 — can track thousands of acres.

The Stanford scientists used near-daily images from three recent winter seasons — when manure stands out against the backdrop of snow-covered fields — to train their model to recognize spreading. The scientists also sought to identify farms that spread more frequently than others. 

Snow-covered farm field under a blue sky and the sun.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources contacted Weiss Family Farms in Durand, Wis., after the dairy operation spread solid manure on a field the week prior. A machine learning model developed by researchers at Stanford University’s Regulation, Evaluation and Governance Lab initially flagged Weiss’ field, shown here, to the state agency as an area where manure was spread during prohibited winter months. (Courtesy of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)

Later, the researchers selected a random sample of 30 winter manure-spreading events the model detected. They discovered state filings documented only four, raising questions about the comprehensiveness of the department’s winter spreading record-keeping.

Finally, the model predicted about 700 to 1,200 instances of manure spreading during February and March 2022 when it is “presumptively prohibited.” 

The study accused the state of “laxness of enforcement and monitoring,” which “has resulted in widespread winter land application.”

The researchers’ tone has since softened.

“The number itself is not super concrete,” study co-author and RegLab data scientist Nic Rothbacher said of the estimate. “Still, I agree the conclusion is right, that there is a lot more manure application happening than perhaps the state would like to see based on environmental risk.”

DNR investigates ground truth

In 2023, the RegLab researchers conducted a new assessment of the model’s accuracy by comparing it to a season of on-the-ground observations. 

They forwarded to the Department of Natural Resources a batch of 582 potential detections captured by satellites that monitored all Wisconsin CAFOs during the two prohibited months.

Employee Ben Uvaas, who then helped oversee CAFO compliance and enforcement, handled the detections like he would a complaint of spreading spotted from a kitchen window.

From hundreds of miles above, streaks of manure resemble skid marks on Mother Nature’s toilet paper, yet other scenery can lead aerial viewers astray.

The winter spreading of waste feed and tillage — both legal — duped the model, according to a spreadsheet of outcomes obtained through a public records request. So did solar panels. In some cases, snow melted, revealing manure from previous months.

Uvaas sifted out about 75% of the detections. Other staff contacted farmers, reviewed CAFO records and inspected fields.

Their inquiries unearthed 30 instances of manure spreading during February and March, nine of which were deemed noncompliant. A handful of applications were performed legally because the manure originated at a non-CAFO; unlike CAFOs, smaller livestock farms generally are exempt from winter spreading rules.

Staff did not determine whether illegal spreading transpired in an additional 22 cases.

“We definitely did find more noncompliant winter spreading than a normal or an average year,” Uvaas said, pinning a typical figure at two or three. “That wasn’t surprising to me, considering the amount of time staff spent looking for them.”

Images from a Stanford University artificial intelligence training database depict an unconfirmed, but presumed example of manure spreading that the researchers would have used to teach computers to recognize when farmers butter land with livestock poop during the winter. (Courtesy of Planet Labs PBC)

The 2022 RegLab study cannot be compared side-by-side to the latest outcomes because the researchers examined only detections in which they had greater confidence and didn’t seek to generate a statewide estimate of manure spreading. However, Uvaas thinks the new observations indicate unreported winter spreading happens in Wisconsin far less frequently than the researchers previously suggested.

He is glad the department participated; employees learned “valuable lessons,” such as the need to clarify frozen manure regulations.

Yet, for all the effort staff put into the project, Uvaas said, “I just don’t think the juice is worth the squeeze to pursue this kind of technology for winter spreading issues.”

The researchers had a different take. They considered the model’s ability to detect manure without respect to legality. It correctly spotted it in about half of the 121 cases the regulators investigated.

Broadly speaking, the greatest barrier to accuracy is a dearth of winter manure-spreading images with which to train the model. Popular AI like ChatGPT can feast on pre-existing language data, but the scientists could feed their model only a limited set of manually identified examples.

Understanding the phenomena that affect the ground’s appearance from miles on high also presents a challenge. Another obstacle: Light from reflective snow cover occasionally bleached the already low-resolution images. Clouds obscured the view.

Given the uncertainties, the RegLab researchers believe authorities should use detections to prioritize cases worthy of human investigation, not function as a judge and jury.

Drawing legal lines in the sand (and snow)

Agency staff informed at least some of the farmers who spread illegally that their complaints came from eyes in the sky.

“It was very difficult and time-consuming for me, specifically, to try and convince people, no, these are not DNR satellites,” Uvaas said. “No, DNR is not flying a satellite or a drone over your farm.”

Brad Krueger didn’t know about the aerial imaging.

He milks about 770 cows at MAM Farms in Markesan, Wisconsin. In February 2023, an employee spread manure when he wasn’t supposed to, and satellites caught the results on camera.

Krueger said the knowledge that sentinel satellites could be watching wouldn’t necessarily change the way he operates. “What’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong,” he said.

‘The water doesn’t know or care where the poo came from.’

attorney Katie Garvey

But Krueger would prefer that a human verify all detections, a point on which he, Uvaas and the RegLab researchers agree.

“I have a problem with people sitting in an office and telling me what I should or should not do either,” Krueger added. “Because they’re not out here, 14 degrees below zero, trying to take care of animals.”

Krueger, like several farmers, said his “beef” lies more with the fairness of Wisconsin’s manure-spreading rules than the technology with which it enforces them. Some producers said it’s unfair to single out CAFOs when operators of smaller farms can apply manure with seeming impunity.

The model wasn’t designed to identify such circumstances, and it lacks a law degree.

Yet, the model’s spotting of at least 21 verified instances of permitted application during the prohibited months raises a question about the logic of state rules. Should Wisconsin lawmakers delineate legal and illegal spreading based on farm size and timing if the potential harms are the same?

The Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, which assisted RegLab in the research, calls the law’s distinctions arbitrary.

“The water doesn’t know or care where the poo came from,” staff attorney Katie Garvey said.

Will AI swamp the DNR with complaints?

The Department of Natural Resources has for years used satellite imagery to map things, but Uvaas doesn’t foresee adding AI to the agency’s CAFO enforcement tool belt.

Instead, he anticipates other consequential changes. Accessible satellite imaging could “swamp” the agency with citizen complaints — potentially thousands.

“I would be really surprised if this is the last time DNR is responding to complaints identified by technology that’s similar to this,” he said. “It doesn’t require DNR to pick up the technology ourselves. It’s coming to us.”

Garvey called it “unfortunate” that AI wouldn’t be used in-house.

“What I hope that DNR will be able to see is that it never has been, and never should have been, citizens’ responsibility to be monitoring what polluters are doing,” she said. “Citizens are already having to pay the price.”

The Stanford scientists don’t know if regulators in other states have tried using the technology. Doing so in Wisconsin, Uvaas said, would require cash and political appetite. However, lawmakers are just starting to grapple with AI’s impacts on elections, government administration and the workforce.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center plans to continue investigating how the model could be adopted by governments and non-government watchdog groups (acquiring aerial imagery is likely cost-prohibitive for residents, Garvey said).

Regulators could consider using the technology for goals beyond enforcement, she noted, including data collection or water quality standards development.

Some see privacy ‘gray area’

Don Weiss, of Weiss Family Farms in Durand, feels ambivalent about satellite surveillance. 

A Department of Natural Resources employee contacted Weiss in February 2023 after his dairy operation spread solid manure on a field the week prior. 

Aerial imaging seems like a violation of his privacy, Weiss said, but farmers also must comply with regulations.

“It’s such a gray area that it’s so hard to tell what is the right or wrong thing to do,” he said. “I know they need to monitor people because people try to get away with murder.”

Stanford researchers have likewise pondered privacy implications.

The initial RegLab study noted that CAFO operators already must report spreading. State and federal officials could arrive at any time to inspect a farm, and operations often sit in public view. RegLab Research Director Kit Rodolfa said that any use of satellite imagery must balance potential harms and benefits.

“We need to be thoughtful about where we think that line is,” he said. “I don’t think that’s just a decision for us as researchers to be making unilaterally.”

Zinke, the Brownsville farmer, laughed about his encounter with satellites.

In one respect, the surveillance doesn’t bother him. He, too, uses satellite technology on his farm.

But Zinke resigns himself to the scrutiny. If not a satellite, he said, something else would watch — perhaps a trespassing neighbor on a four-wheeler.

“If they want to take a picture of my field,” Zinke said, “I ain’t got nothing to hide.”

This story is a product of the Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk, an editorially independent reporting network based at the University of Missouri School of Journalism in partnership with Report For America and funded by the Walton Family Foundation. Wisconsin Watch is a member of the network. Sign up for our newsletter to get our news straight to your inbox.

Poopspotting: How AI and satellites can detect illegal manure spreading in Wisconsin is a post from Wisconsin Watch, a non-profit investigative news site covering Wisconsin since 2009. Please consider making a contribution to support our journalism.

Massive cell service outage prompts caution from local police agencies

By Shereen Siewert | Wausau Pilot & Review Wireless customers across the country including communities in the Wausau area lost service overnight, prompting concern about disruption to 911 calls. Widespread outages were reported beginning at around 2:30 a.m. and continued to rise throughout the morning hours. AT&T, in a statement, acknowledged the outage and said […]

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Anti-Semitic propaganda distributed again in Wausau

Editor’s note: This story has been edited to remove a link to an anti-Semitic website and its quoted content. This change was made after receiving feedback from a member of Wausau’s Jewish community. Comments and suggestions are always welcome at editor@wausaupilotandreview.com. By Shereen Siewert | Wausau Pilot & Review Residents in Wausau say they received […]

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