Clearer Rules Governing Election Observation Needed
CCWI Working on WEC Advisory Committee to Formulate Rules
Election observers play an important and vital role in Wisconsin because they can serve as the eyes and ears of the public in the exercise of one of our most fundamental civic duties and rights as citizens – the right to have our voices heard and our ballots counted in free and fair elections. Election observation can serve to provide public confirmation of the validity and integrity of the democratic process by which citizens choose their elected representatives and other officials and help decide public policy matters that affect every-day life.
In recent years, a deepening partisan divide in our nation and state and the polarization of our politics, combined with the closeness of many elections, have made election observation by citizens more popular. While the interest in observing has grown over the past several election cycles, the lack of clear rules governing the conduct and behavior of citizen observers at polling places has sometimes led to confusion and disagreements. Clear rules from the WEC will help protect voting rights, help observers be able to better cooperate with election officials, and work for the benefit of the observers themselves while also preserving and enhancing access to the election process and help improve transparency, security, and confidence in Wisconsin’s elections.
Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) unanimously decided that clearer administrative rules overseeing the election observer system in the state were desirable and necessary to help alleviate further misunderstanding and to promote greater public confidence in the election process in future elections.
Common Cause Wisconsin (CCWI) was invited by the Wisconsin Elections Commission to join the advisory committee on election observation that convened on March 8th following comments CCWI submitted to WEC in February. Erin Grunze represented CCWI at the advisory committee meeting. Then, at last week’s regularly scheduled WEC meeting, WEC commissioners were able to review and discuss the details about the information provided by the members of the advisory committee. Additionally, CCWI provided WEC with further comments and clarifications about the role of the election observer for last week’s meeting.
CCWI has been a partner on Election Protection programs in Wisconsin for over the past ten years. Election Protection is important in order to conduct and maintain free and fair elections, especially in the face of more anti-voter laws and the additional barriers voters must now face to accessible elections. Election Protection programs and volunteers help voters navigate the voting process and ensure that voters can cast their ballots without obstruction, confusion, or intimidation. As a part of Election Protection programs in Wisconsin, CCWI has recruited volunteer observers for several election cycles to be trained as election observers by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin for Election Day.
Developing clear rules and guidance are challenging tasks because the role of the election observer is directed and governed by state statutes and their observer role should not take precedence or be prioritized over the right and ability of the voter to be able to cast their vote unimpeded and with confidentiality and privacy. WEC needs to help promulgate rules that are specific about what election observers can do, where they can be positioned, and how they can interact with voters, poll workers and the chief inspectors at each polling place while respecting and minding the privacy and confidentiality voters have the right to deserve and expect. In addition, election officials need to be able to do their jobs to keep the election process moving smoothly and should not be impeded or disrupted by election observers. There is a precise balance that needs to be found between the observers, election officials, and voters. Voter confidence in the process and public confidence in our elections will increase only when there are clear standards that protect the rights of voters, ensure reasonable access for observers, and protect election workers. As part of the advisory committee, CCWI is helping to shape the rules that will guide election observers to carry out their tasks at polling locations.
At last Friday’s WEC meeting, the commissioners voted unanimously to direct the WEC staff to draft an outline of rules for the advisory committee to provide recommendations and feedback to the six commissioners so they can prepare a final draft for the Legislature’s Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules to consider and enact in time for the rules to take effect in 2024. CCWI looks forward to continuing our participation in this important process and wanted to inform you about the critical work being done to instill greater public confidence in the election process in Wisconsin.
Thank you for your continued support for free and fair elections and for the preservation and enhancement of our democracy.