Election Observers

Anyone, other than a candidate up for election, has the right to observe the conduct of the election and/or an election administration event. Observers may be present at a facility served by special voting deputies, a municipal clerk’s office during in-person absentee voting, at a polling place on Election Day, at a central counting location and at a recount.

What to Expect

A designated observation area at the polling place or other location should permit observers to hear instructions and to readily observe all public aspects of the process without disrupting the activities.

If observers are unable to hear the election inspectors and voters, they may ask for the instructions or information to be repeated.

To ensure the orderly conduct of the election and/or election administration event, or if necessary due to physical limitations of the host location, an election official may  limit the number of observers representing the same organization or candidate.

All observers shall be accorded the same respect regardless of their political affiliation or non-affiliation.

Checking In

Observers should check-in and follow directions from the election official in charge.

Location Check-in Required? Who to check in with
Facility served by special voting deputies Yes Special voting deputies
In-person absentee voting Yes Municipal clerk or their designee
Polling place during polling hours Yes Chief inspector or their designee
Central count while processing ballots Yes Municipal clerk or their designee.
Recount Canvass No N/A


Election Observer Log and Identification

An observer shall legibly list their full name, street address and municipality, and the name of the organization or candidate the observer represents, if any, on the Election Observer Log. The observer shall also sign this form acknowledging they understand the rules and will abide by them. Wis. Stat. § 7.41(1).

Additionally, an observer must present photo identification to an election inspector. If the information on the photo identification does not match the information on the observer log, the individual shall not be permitted to serve as an observer.

An observer must wear a tag or badge which reads “Election Observer,” and which shall be worn at all times while in the location.

Observer Rules-at-a-Glance Brochure

The State of Wisconsin permits individuals to observe voting and the election administration process at polling places on Election Day. The Election Observers: Rules-at-a-Glance Brochure outlines the Wisconsin Elections Commission's interpretation of statutes governing the conduct of election observers.

Observers FAQ

View all FAQ

    If an absentee ballot is unfolded, that means the voter cast an absentee ballot in the clerk’s office on a piece of voting equipment known as the ES&S ExpressVote. The ExpressVote is a touch-screen ballot marking device (BMD) which prints the voter’s choices on a smaller paper ballot which does not need to be folded. ExpressVote ballots can be counted using the ES&S DS200 precinct scanner, just like regular sized paper ballots. ExpressVote BMDs are also used by people with disabilities to vote in person at polling places.

    The clerk or deputy clerk is required to initial the absentee ballot before issuing it to the voter, so it is natural that many of them all have the same set of initials. More info about initials in this FAQ.

    Election inspectors are not required under 2011 Wisconsin Act 23 to compare the signature to any other record.  Voters should be directed to sign using their normal signature as they would sign any other official document and election inspectors should indicate the line number on which the voter is to sign.  The law does not require voter signatures to be legible. 

    The presence of a candidate at a location where ballots are given to voters may give the appearance of electioneering. During hours when ballots may be cast, Wis. Stat. § 12.03 prohibits electioneering at polling places, in-person absentee voting sites, and locations where special voting deputies are present. It also prevents electioneering on public property within 100 feet of an entrance to one of these locations. Electioneering is defined by the statute as “any activity which is intended to influence voting at an election.” Additionally, while most individuals may observe voting at polling places and in-person absentee voting sites, any candidate whose name appears on a ballot at one of those locations is not extended that right under Wis. Stat. § 7.41(1). For these reasons, the Wisconsin Elections Commission recommends that a candidate only be present at one of these locations in order to vote, and to leave as soon as the candidate has finished voting.