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Wisconsin: Protections Against Intimidation of Voters and Election Workers

This resource details state laws and policies protecting against the intimidation of voters and election workers and the disruption of the voting process.

Published: October 28, 2022
View the entire Laws Protecting Voters and Election Workers from Intimidation series

Voters in Wisconsin have the right to vote free from intimidation under federal and state law. footnote1_0anoajh 1 18 U.S.C. §§ 241, 594; 52 U.S.C. § 10101(b); Wis. Stat. § 12.09. The federal protections that apply to all states are explained here. Any attempt or threat to make use of force, violence, or restraint to influence any person’s vote, whether personally or through an agent, is prohibited.   

The below addresses the laws and policies that serve as guardrails against specific threats of intimidation.

Intimidation by Poll Watchers

In Wisconsin, poll watchers are called “observers.” Wisconsin law outlines who may serve as an observer and what they may and may not do:

Poll workers may remove any observer who disrupts the operation of a polling place or clerk’s office. footnote6_1o70751 6 Wis. Stat. § 7.41(3).

Challenges to Voter Eligibility at the Polls

In Wisconsin, any person eligible to vote in the state can challenge a voter if they have a reasonable basis that the challenged voter does not meet the legal requirements to vote. footnote7_cpuopiz 7 Wis. Stat. § 6.925.  

Wisconsin law provides guardrails to such challenges:

  • Challenges must be “for cause” and may only be brought regarding the following: citizenship, age, residency, felony status, competency to vote, bet or wager on the outcome of the election, or voting previously at the same election. footnote8_849bz0j 8 Wis. Stat. § 6.92.  Thus, any challenges based at all on race, national origin, appearance, surname, language, or religion are not permitted.
  • The challenger will be asked under oath for evidence supporting their challenge that the challenged voter is not qualified to vote. footnote9_8g29qum 9 Wis. Stat. § 6.925.
  • Frivolous challenges, or those that are made to interfere with elections and intimidate voters, should not be made. Frivolous complaints are also subject to fines. In April 2022, the Wisconsin Elections Commission fined a man $2,400 for filing repeated frivolous complaints of voter fraud.

Wisconsin law outlines how challenges may be raised and evaluated:

  • Poll workers have the authority to determine the qualifications of the challenged voter. footnote10_w37wor7 10 Id.
  • One of the poll workers will administer an oath or affirmation to the challenged voter. footnote11_mzw3q7c 11 Wis. Stat. § 6.92.
  • If the challenged voter answers all questions, takes the oath or affirmation, and the poll worker determines the person meets the voting requirements, they may vote. footnote12_k9rn00x 12 Wis. Stat. § 6.94.

Intimidation of Poll Workers and Election Officials

No person may impede or prevent the exercise of an election in Wisconsin. footnote13_77cw8yu 13 Wis. Stat. § 12.09(2).  It is also a felony to physically harm a public officer either to influence their actions or as a result of some official action taken. footnote14_r5o0sa1 14 Wis. Stat. § 940.20(4).

Voter Intimidation by Poll Workers

The Brennan Center and All Voting is Local published a detailed resource on the rules and constraints for Wisconsin poll workers here.

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