Voters in Wisconsin have the right to vote free from intimidation under federal and state law. footnote1_1llwwnn 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:
- Any member of the public, except for a candidate on the ballot, may be an observer, subject to the limitations imposed by the lead election worker. footnote2_mbg40ji 2 Wis. Stat. § 7.41(1).
- Municipal clerks can limit the number of observers representing the same organization who are allowed to serve at a time and may also limit the areas that observers are allowed access to within a polling place. footnote3_f7rr1o7 3 Wis. Stat. § 7.41(1)–(2).
- Observers must present photo identification to the head poll worker upon arrival and sign in with their full name in the Election Observer Log. footnote4_3l1f3qr 4 Wis. Stat. § 7.41(1).
- All observers shall wear a badge identifying themselves as an “election observer” when inside a polling place.
- Observers may not interact directly with any electors unless a voter requests assistance with casting a ballot.
- Observers must remain within the area designated for observation by the main poll worker. footnote5_sytgksc 5 Wis. Stat. § 7.41(2).
- Observers are prohibited from engaging in any form of electioneering, including wearing any materials that may influence an election.
- Observers are prohibited from handling any official documents.
- Observers are prohibited from using video or still cameras during voting hours.
Poll workers may remove any observer who disrupts the operation of a polling place or clerk’s office. footnote6_oi0qtjt 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_i25mo1t 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_3fz40kp 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_ofjl6zk 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_q9l3ten 10 Id.
- One of the poll workers will administer an oath or affirmation to the challenged voter. footnote11_bnheyio 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_132lp31 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_ax5ob9g 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_liof451 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.
118 U.S.C. §§ 241, 594; 52 U.S.C. § 10101(b); Wis. Stat. § 12.09.
2Wis. Stat. § 7.41(1).
3Wis. Stat. § 7.41(1)–(2).
4Wis. Stat. § 7.41(1).
5Wis. Stat. § 7.41(2).
6Wis. Stat. § 7.41(3).
7Wis. Stat. § 6.925.
8Wis. Stat. § 6.92.
9Wis. Stat. § 6.925.
11Wis. Stat. § 6.92.
12Wis. Stat. § 6.94.
13Wis. Stat. § 12.09(2).
14Wis. Stat. § 940.20(4).