At the tail end of the first Presidential debate, moderator Chris Wallace asked both candidates if they would urge their followers to remain peaceful and avoid civil unrest during election day. Joe Biden said that he would, while President Donald Trump instead told his followers to “go into the polls and watch very carefully.”
Speaking with reporters earlier today, Meagan Wolfe, Wisconsin’s top elections official, said voting observation is not illegal. In fact, observers are welcome during any election.
“Observers are allowed, under law, at all of the polling locations statewide,” she says. “So, there has to be a public opportunity for observers to be a part of that process … Observers are really interested citizens that aren’t voters or poll workers, but are interested in watching and engaging in that process.”
Voter intimidation, however, is another matter. Per guidance from the Wisconsin Department of Justice, voter intimidation occurs when people use “threatening force to compel someone to vote, to keep them from voting, or to influence their voting decision.”
In an interview with WORT last Friday, state Attorney General Josh Kaul said that anyone who engages in voter intimidation will face swift legal repercussions.
“You know if somebody is standing in front of a polling place with a long gun and they’re loitering and they’re not there for any purpose other than to intimidate voters — I think you can expect to see a swift law enforcement reaction in that spot.”
Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl told WORT yesterday that if anyone feels that a poll observer has crossed the line into intimidation, voters should inform their polling place’s Chief Inspector.
She said that Chief Inspectors are given authority over each of the polling places, and can make a final decision on when someone has crossed over into voter intimidation.
“We train our chief inspectors on this and, even today, the city attorney and I had a Q&A session with those who might be interested in observing at the polls, just to make sure everybody’s on the same page in advance,” Witzel-Behl said.
While at the polls on election day, voters may also see members of the National Guard. Governor Tony Evers has authorized up to 400 members of the Guard to aid local clerks during election day in case of poll worker shortages.
At least here in Madison, that’s unlikely — as the City has seen record enrollment for poll workers in recent weeks.
Wolfe says that the Guard members are only authorized to serve as poll workers, and will play no part in law enforcement during the process.
“These National Guard that, again, are on reserve in case we have a poll worker shortage, are just there to serve as poll workers,” she says. “They would not be doing any sort of law enforcement or even things like line management. They’re just there to serve their communities as poll workers.”
Absentee in-person voting runs through this Sunday, November first. Madison residents who wish to cast their ballot early can do so at the city clerk’s office or at any of the city’s other early voting sites, a comprehensive list of which can be found online at the City of Madison’s website.
Registration while voting early in-person is available until tomorrow, and on election day — but under state law, you can’t register at voting sites this weekend.
It’s also now too late to mail back your absentee ballot. For your vote to be counted, elections officials recommend dropping it off in-person at the polls on election day, or at the clerk’s office before then.
Madison voters can also drop their ballots in one of the city’s newly installed absentee ballot dropboxes. Those can be found across Madison at city fire stations and at the Elver Park Shelter, and will be open until 5:00 PM next Monday.
(Photo: WORT News / Flickr)