Eight new election-related bills are being circulated in the state Capitol. As a nonpartisan organization, the League of Women Voters has concerns about most of them.
Some of the proposals are matters that are already addressed in existing law, such as the requirement for voters to sign the poll book and for election officials to seal ballot bags. For these matters, we need better training for our local election officials, not new laws that penalize voters for poll worker error or further complicate the poll workers’ job.
Two of the bills would politicize polling places in Wisconsin. One of these would require local clerks, to the extent possible, to hire people appointed by the political parties to be election officials. The other calls for poll workers appointed by the two major parties to carry out certain polling place activities.
On first blush, this might sound like a good way for the parties to keep each other in check. But what is good for the parties is not necessarily good for Wisconsin voters, and these proposals certainly would not be good for a smoothly run election.
Clerks in Wisconsin need to be able to hire the most qualified people to work at the polls, not the latest political appointees. The parties send observers to watch for electioneering or other irregularities. There is no need for poll workers themselves to be appointed by the parties.
Many clerks cross-train poll workers so they can rotate between the various Election Day positions, such as check-in, greeter and voter registration. That allows workers to fill in for one another as needed. There is no place for differentiation of duties based on party affiliation.
Many Wisconsin voters — and poll workers — consider themselves independent voters. Most are not political party members, even if they always vote for candidates from one party. In order to be appointed by a political party to be a poll worker, one would probably have to be a dues-paying member. Given how little our current poll workers are paid, if at all, they should not feel pressured to join a party and pay dues in order to continue to serve.
Election officials have been barraged with new requirements in the past two years. Let’s not burden them again with more new requirements and procedures. Instead, the Legislature should provide for more and better training of local election officials, so they can continue to administer free, fair and accessible elections in Wisconsin.
Andrea Kaminski is the executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.