GAB Guidance Hampers Election Observers

MacIver News Service | October 22, 2012

[MILWAUKEE…] As early voting begins across Wisconsin, the state’s election watchdogs have made it harder for election observers to ensure poll workers use proper procedures.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty has sent a letter to Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, asking the GAB to issue clarifications on where election observers stand and what documents they have the right to see.

“Our clients are concerned with the interference with the legal rights of election observers that may stem from – even if they are not intended by – certain actions taken by the Government Accountability Board and statements made by the Board’s staff with respect to the use of electronic documents for in-person absentee and same day voter registration,” wrote Rick Esenberg, WILL’s president and general counsel.

Under state law, election observers must be positioned so that they can observe “all public aspects of the voting process.” However, Esenberg says recent GAB guidance to election observer organizations has undermined that requirement by stating that observers should be kept at least six feet away from registration tables.

Esenberg believes that distance may prevent observers from seeing whether registration forms are filled out completely with properly-documented proofs of residence and even hearing voters stating their names and addresses.

“Just as it is important to avoid unnecessary interference with balloting, it is crucial that the public have confidence in the process,” Esenberg’s letter continued. “This is particularly so in light of reports that election officials have registered voters with improper identifying documents.”

These problems are exacerbated, according to WILL, by the GAB’s recent decision to allow voters to present electronic proofs of residence. Observers are likely to have an extremely difficult time viewing documents on devices as small as smartphones with three- or four-inch screens from six feet away.

We will post an update to this story when and if the Government Accountability Board responds to our request for comment.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty is a non-profit, public interest law firm promoting the public interest in constitutional and open government, individual liberty, and a robust civil society.

WILL sent the letter on behalf of two Wisconsin citizens and We’re Watching Wisconsin Elections, an organization involved, among other things, with educating non-partisan election observers.