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

    There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in this or any other Wisconsin election.  Wisconsin has many systems in place to deter and detect illegal voting, but there will always be small amounts of voter fraud in any election. The Wisconsin Elections Commission is dedicated to working with local election officials and law enforcement to identify and prosecute election crimes.

    After every election, local election officials and the WEC conduct audits designed to identify possible cases of voter fraud, which are referred to district attorneys for further investigation and possible prosecution. Suspected cases are reported to the public through our annual Report of Suspected Election Fraud, Irregularities or Violations pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 7.15(1)(g) to the Wisconsin Legislature. Past reports are available here.

    Historically, the most common form of voter fraud is voting by residents who are serving a felony sentence and have lost their right to vote. The WEC works closely with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and regularly receives lists of people who have been convicted of felonies, who are then removed from the eligible voter list in real time throughout the election cycle. WEC also provides lists of ineligible persons to municipal clerks so they can be screened if they attempt to register on Election Day. If an ineligible felon somehow manages to register to vote, that is caught during the felon audit after the election and referred for prosecution.

    Wisconsin’s statewide voter database is designed to identify any possible instance of double voting, and a small number of criminal referrals have been made and cases have been prosecuted over the years. Starting with the 2018 General Election, Wisconsin participates in cross-state audits searching for possible cases of voting by individuals in multiple states.

    Anyone with information about possible fraud in an election is encouraged to file a report with local law enforcement or to file a sworn complaint with the Wisconsin Elections Commission.  State law prohibits the WEC from starting its own investigations without a sworn complaint.  For more information about how to file a complaint, please visit our complaint page
     

    Some observers at the recounts held in Dane and Milwaukee counties have complained that they were unable to get close enough to the workers to see everything they were doing, and for that reason, those ballots should not be counted.  State law that governs recounts allows candidates and their representatives to view materials such as ballots, but states that only recount officials can handle those materials.  Recount observers were provided with opportunities to observe election materials as they were being processed and raise objections, but, by law, were not able to touch those materials.  The county boards of canvassers in counties where the recount was conducted implemented procedures that had to balance public access with the health and safety of recount workers.

    On December 16, 2020, the lead attorney for President Trump’s recount effort in Wisconsin, James R. Troupis, testified in Washington, D.C. before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs at a hearing titled, “Examining Irregularities in the 2020 Election.”  The committee is chaired by U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin.

    During the hearing, Senator Johnson asked Judge Troupis to summarize the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision denying President Trump’s request to overturn the election results following the recount.   Judge Troupis testified that he disagreed with the court’s decision, but he said this about how the recounts were conducted:

    "Senator Johnson, as you know, we have a long history in Wisconsin, unlike other states, I know unlike other states, of high transparency. Our recounts were conducted with utmost integrity by both Milwaukee and Dane County, with thousands of volunteers able to look at those items."

    Video of the hearing is here: https://www.hsgac.senate.gov/examining-irregularities-in-the-2020-election. Judge Troupis made the comment at about 1 hour and 18 minutes into the hearing.
     

    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.
     

    The initials some recount observers saw on ballots are municipal clerk’s employees, not voters. 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. 

    Unfortunately, recount observers did not understand what these initials were for, and they assumed it meant the same voter filled out and initialed all the ballots. Here are links to the state laws that require initials on ballots:

    https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/5/ii/54 

    5.54  Notice to electors. Every ballot, except a voting machine ballot, shall bear substantially the following information on the face: “NOTICE TO ELECTORS: This ballot may be invalid unless initialed by 2 election inspectors. If cast as an absentee ballot, the ballot must bear the initials of the municipal clerk or deputy clerk."

    https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/6/iv/87 

    6.87  Absent voting procedure.
    (1)  Upon proper request made within the period prescribed in s. 6.86, the municipal clerk or a deputy clerk authorized by the municipal clerk shall write on the official ballot, in the space for official endorsement, the clerk's initials and official title. 
    It is election fraud for a voter to sign or initial their own ballot.  Here is the law about election fraud:

    https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/12/13 

    12.13  Election fraud.
    (1)  ELECTORS. Whoever intentionally does any of the following violates this chapter:
    (f) Shows his or her marked ballot to any person or places a mark upon the ballot so it is identifiable as his or her ballot.