• Tue. Nov 29th, 2022

Commission proposes review of Wisconsin poll watcher rules

ByChad J. Johnson

Sep 21, 2022

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Elections Commission began the process Wednesday of revising rules for election observers, an issue that has drawn attention and concern as Democrats and Republicans aggressively recruit partisan observers to make sure election workers obey the law this November.

The unprecedented recruitment efforts are the result of heightened voter skepticism and have some local poll clerks worried about safety at the polls, especially as reports of intimidating behavior from partisan observers have popped up across the country since 2020.

The Elections Commission voted 5-1 on Wednesday to send a far-reaching statement to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers outlining its intent, the first step in a long process that could change the way election observers monitor the polls. If approved by the governor, the statement will be open for public comment.

No new rules will be in effect until after the November election, and the whole process will likely take one to two years, according to commission attorney Brandon Hunzicker.

The statement approved in a bipartisan vote on Wednesday outlines what the commission will consider if it receives the governor’s approval, including reviews of how observers should interact with voters and election officials, how election officials can restrict observer access and what qualifies as disruptive. behavior of an observer.

The only person to vote against the proposal, Republican Commissioner Robert Spindell, said he was concerned the scope statement lacked detail. “I see no reason to rush,” he said, citing concerns he’s heard from observers who don’t want rule revisions to restrict their access.

Meanwhile, commission chairman Don Millis said he expects to see a record number of election observers this year.

The Elections Commission also voted on Wednesday to again send postcards to voters requesting mail-in ballots at addresses other than those on their records. In August, after a Racine man admitted to fraudulently requesting mail-in ballots from his home using the personal information of elected officials and other voters, the commission sent out postcards to verify that a such fraud had not occurred more widely. None of the nearly 4,000 voters who received the notifications responded to say they had not requested an absentee ballot.

Commissioner Ann Jacobs, a Democrat, called the rehearsal of that process “theatre” designed to reassure voters about how the state’s electoral system works.

“We do this to make people feel better knowing that our system is in great shape,” she said.


Harm Venhuizen is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow Venhuizen on Twitter.