The Wisconsin Elections Commission (“WEC”) and its municipal, state, and federal partners have received an influx of questions in advance of the November 3, 2020, General Election relating to firearms in the polling place and other physical security issues. This communication will provide guidance on this complicated subject, specifically addressing the most relevant areas of the law and several common questions. In short, Wisconsin law does not expressly prevent the carry of weaponry in polling places unless certain factors are met, and any prohibition on the possession of weapons is a decision that needs to be made at the municipal level. Additionally, chief elections inspectors retain fairly broad statutory protections in their ability to monitor and respond to incidents which disrupt elections processes.
In large part, Wisconsin’s only universal prohibition of weapons in a certain class of facilities relates to K-12 schools. Wisconsin expanded on various federal laws by specifically extending K-12 weapon prohibitions to include lawfully licensed parties in/on school grounds as well (e.g. those with a concealed carry license). Wis. Stat. § 948.605(2). There are several other classes of buildings in which the carry of firearms is prohibited, but these are unlikely to be polling places (e.g. correctional institutions, secured mental health facilities, airport facilities beyond security checkpoints, courthouses, and law enforcement stations). Wis. Stat. § 175.60(16). Election officials will want to consult their municipal attorney or corporation counsel if a K-12 school or other restricted facility serves as a polling place in your district, or other similar questions about weapons or facilities arise. This memo will also detail the applicability of laws related to other weapons and facilities, as well as personal restrictions that may be applied to specific individuals.