Wisconsin: Documenting the 2012 Vote

Note: This page covers information specific to Wisconsin. For general information regarding legal issues associated with documenting your vote, see the Documenting the Vote 2012 page.

Wisconsin election law may affect your ability to use video or still photography in and around your polling place, as well as your ability to interview other voters at the polls.

Prohibited Zone

Sections 12.03 and 12.035 of the Wisconsin Statutes create a 100-foot "Prohibited Area" around the entrance to the polling place.  In this area, you may not (1) engage in electioneering activities or otherwise attempt to influence any person in voting; or (2) post or distribute election-related material. Taking photographs and shooting video in this area does not appear to violate Wisconsin law.

Outside of this 100-foot zone, you are free to take photographs, shoot video, and interview voters (with permission), as long as you are not on someone's private property. Note, however, that even outside of the 100-foot zone, Section 12.13(3)(q) generally prohibits soliciting voters to reveal how their votes are cast.

Inside the Polling Room

Section 7.41 states that the public has a general right to be present at any polling place, subject to certain restrictions:

  • The chief inspector or municipal clerk may limit the number of observers representing the same organization;
  • Observers may be restricted to "designated observation areas," provided that such areas are "positioned to permit any authorized individual to readily observe all public aspects of the voting process; and
  • The chief inspector or municipal clerk may order the removal of any person who disrupts the operation of the polling place or engages in electioneering activity.

In addition, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board has directed local election officials to follow specific rules set out in Emergency Rule GAB 4 (2010) relating to the presence of members of the public as observers of the election process. (Although this rule has technically expired, the Government Accountability Board continues to view it as a proper interpretation of the underlying Wisconsin statutes.)

Emergency Rule GAB 4 provides more detail on "designated observation areas," as well as stating further requirements applicable to observers. These include:

  • Identifying oneself to the chief inspector as a member of the public wishing to act as an observer, and signing a form acknowledging and agreeing to abide by applicable rules;
  • Complying with all "lawful commands" of the chief inspector;
  • Keeping conversation to a minimum and not using cellphones or wireless devices (except for text messaging and other non-audible functions);
  • Not conversing with voters or election officials concerning candidates, parties, or ballot questions;
  • Not using video or still cameras within the polling place while the polls are open; and
  • Not using video or still cameras within the polling place after the polls close in a manner that disrupts or interferes with the administration of the election.

Photographing or Videoing Your Own Marked Ballot

Section 12.13(1)(f) of the Wisconsin Statutes prohibits any voter from "show[ing] his or her marked ballot to any person[.]" Together with the ban on use of video or still cameras discussed above, this would appear to prohibit any voter from documenting his or her own vote.


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