by Henry Redman, Wisconsin Examiner
April 24, 2024

The Wisconsin Elections Commission’s (WEC) effort to create a new rule to guide the conduct of election observers at polling places received a public hearing Wednesday. Supporters and opponents expressed their opinions, which included the airing of false claims of election fraud that have hounded the agency for the past four years. 

Under the rule, election observers would only be allowed in certain designated areas between three and eight feet from certain aspects of the voting process — where voters’ addresses are announced when arriving to the poll, where new voters are being registered and where ballots with defects that can’t be read by voting machines are being re-made by poll workers. 

The rule would also guide the process by which election workers and law enforcement officers can remove an observer from a polling place for unruly or disruptive behavior. It also includes provisions to require that observers be allowed to use available chairs and restrooms and for how the news media is allowed to operate inside polling places. The rules are different for members of the media, who are allowed to take videos and photos inside polling places while observers are not.

Draft EL 4 Rule Order_1

Since the 2020 election and the baseless accusations of fraud that have persisted since that race, more attention has been paid to what happens at the polls. Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that Donald Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party plan to deploy 100,000 people in battleground states across the country to observe at the polls. That plan, the Times reported, includes a particular focus on Wisconsin and the largely Democratic voting cities  Madison and Milwaukee. 

To help develop the rule, the WEC worked with an advisory committee made up of municipal election clerks, poll workers, observers, election-focused groups and political parties. 

“We believe that this administrative rule as currently written establishes clear and consistent guidelines for election officials and observers, strikes a necessary balance between transparency for observers and the ability of election officials to carry out their duties effectively,” Eileen Newcomer, voter education coordinator for the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, said. “Importantly, it prioritizes voters’ rights to vote without intimidation or interference.” 

But another speaker, John Landwehr, opened his remarks complaining about President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive student debt and that “since there are no serious consequences for people at the top of government that are not following existing rules, people in the lower level government have determined they no longer have to follow laws or rules either.” 

Landwehr alleged that 250,000 illegal ballots were cast in the 2020 election and complained that most polling places in Racine don’t allow observers within three feet of every aspect of the voting process and that he’s been prevented from seeing people’s IDs when he’s observing an election. The draft of the rule states that observers are not allowed to view “confidential information” which is defined as including a voter’s photo ID. 

“As far as Wisconsin ID, whether or not an observer can see it, absolutely,” he said. “They can see it. In order to vote you need to have a Wisconsin ID. That is part of the political aspect, the voting process, so for anybody to tell me I can’t look at somebody’s ID is absolutely wrong.” 

The draft of the observer rule and the comments received Wednesday will now be considered by the full six-member commission. The commission can then forward the final draft to the Legislature and governor for approval.

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