By Shereen Siewert
Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg said she is confident her executive order prohibiting firearms at polling places will hold up in the event of a court challenge because the rule is based on state guidance.
On October 20 the Wisconsin Elections Commission released this memo as guidance for local clerks, a response to an “influx” of questions about election security issues.
“Polling places are almost exclusively confined to nonresidential and government buildings, but it can also be argued that an election may represent a special event,” the WEC states.
Local government units may also restrict the right to carry concealed weapons in polling places, even if the election site or voter is not otherwise restricted, by relying on the special event provisions of the Trespass to Land statutes, the WEC memo states.
The order, issued Friday, resulted in an immediate outcry from some residents who hold concealed carry licenses and viewed the decision as an attack on the Second Amendment. Several residents openly mulled fighting the ruling in court.
“This order is not an indictment on guns, the Second Amendment, or gun owners,” Rosenberg told Wausau Pilot & Review.” This is meant to keep Wausau’s polls safe for all voters and free from potential intimidation.”
In an ideal world, Rosenberg said, she would have worked with the Safe Elections Task Force to discuss and recommend this action.
“It didn’t strike me as an issue until I started hearing from election workers who were concerned about potential voter intimidation from people with guns at the polls,” Rosenberg said.
The city attorney and city clerk jointly researched which laws already exist and which prohibitions Wausau’s polling locations already have, Rosenberg said. They found that there is no uniform direction when it comes to weapons or firearms at polling locations unless it’s at a school – then they are prohibited. Wausau had two schools as polling sites up until this year, the Wausau Army National Guard Armory has its own weapons rules, and the churches don’t have anything uniform.
“Since I issued the orders, I have heard from elected leaders in our neighboring communities about it too,” Rosenberg said. “They wonder if they should be doing something similar.”
According to a WisconsinWatch report published Monday, each municipality can decide whether guns are allowed at a polling place, but some locations have their own restrictions. At K-12 schools, firearms are banned statewide while private or government buildings also can post prohibitions on weapons. Those, too, must be observed by voters.
Wausau is not alone in prohibiting firearms at polling places. The Green Bay City Council approved a ban on firearms and weapons at polling places on Oct 20.
Executive orders are sent to the City Council to approve or deny at their next meeting, something that will also happen here – after the Nov. 3 election.
“Ultimately though, the buck stops with me and I needed to make this decision in the best interest of our election workers, voters, and community,” Rosenberg said.