An Election Day Primer for Wisconsin Voters*

Posted on Categories Civil Rights, Election Law, Milwaukee, Public

Voting_United_StatesTomorrow is Election Day. It’s important to vote, so make sure you know where and when you can cast your ballot. New for Wisconsin voters this year is a photo identification requirement. I break down the voting process below to demystify and clarify it.

The main thing, though, is to vote. Even if you don’t like your choices for president, there are down-ballot races, including a state-wide U.S. Senate race between Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson and any number of races for federal or state representatives and other local officials, for which your vote matters.

Eligibility to vote

You are eligible to vote in Wisconsin if:

  • you are a United States citizen, and
  • you are 18 years old by Election Day, and
  • you have lived for at least 10 consecutive days in the election district or ward in which you want to vote, and
  • you are not in prison on a felony conviction or on parole, probation, or extended supervision at the time of the election (also called “on paper”).

If you are a student at one of Wisconsin’s colleges or universities and are originally from another state, you can still vote in Wisconsin. And if you’re a Wisconsin resident but at a Wisconsin college or university away from your hometown, you can vote where your college or university is.

If you are not yet registered to vote or if you have moved since you last voted

Wisconsin allows same-day voter registration. To register on Election Day you must have proof of residence. This proof of residence may or may not be a photo identification card.  Provided that it has your complete name and address (that is, the address in the election district or ward in which you want to vote), acceptable forms of proof of residence are:

  • an unexpired Wisconsin driver’s license that has your complete name and current address; or
  • any other official identification card issued by a Wisconsin governmental body or unit; or
  • any identification card issued by your employer and bearing your photo (but not a business card); or
  • a real estate tax bill or receipt for either 2015 or 2016; or
  • a university, college or technical school identification card that has your photo (but it does not need to have your current address) and a fee receipt (that is, a tuition payment record) dated no earlier than February 8, 2016; or a university, college or technical school identification card that has your photo (but it does not need to have your current address) and a certified campus housing list (polling places serving large student populations will likely have a certified campus housing list); or
  • a gas, electric, internet, or telephone service bill dated no earlier than August 8, 2016; or
  • a bank statement; or
  • a paycheck or pay stub; or
  • a check or other document issued by a unit of government; or
  • a residential lease that is effective on November 8, 2016.**

Any one of these documents shows that you live in the election district or ward where you plan to vote. If you don’t have a hard copy of any of these documents, you can use your smartphone, tablet, or laptop to show an electronic version to the election officials. Do be aware that not all polling sites may have WI-FI or internet access; no polling place is required to provide it, but some may.

If you moved on October 29, 2016, or before, vote in your new ward, though you will have to re-register. If you moved after October 30, 2016, vote in your old ward.

Finding your polling place

I noticed today that Google’s doodle will link you to websites to find your polling place. You can also check here. If you’re in Milwaukee County, check here. Polls are open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. If you are in line by 8 p.m., you have a right to cast your vote.

Voting and photo identification

Whether you have already registered or whether you register on Election Day, all voters in Wisconsin will have to show one form of photo identification. Importantly, the name on your photo identification need not exactly match your full name (but must conform to it). Thus, if your full name is Robert and you show a photo identification card that lists your name as Bob or Rob, that identification is acceptable. Further, the address on your photo identification need not be your current one. So, for example, if you’re a Wisconsin student from Oshkosh who is attending school in Milwaukee, your photo identification can have your Oshkosh address.

The following photo IDs are acceptable if they are current or expired after November 4, 2014:

  • a Wisconsin Department of Transportation-issued driver’s license, even if your driving privileges are suspended or revoked; or
  • a Wisconsin Department of Transportation-issued identification card; or
  • a military ID card issued by a U.S. uniformed service; or
  • a U.S. passport; or
  • a tribal ID card from a federally recognized tribe in Wisconsin (which ID can be expired even prior to November 4, 2014); or
  • a photo ID card from a Wisconsin accredited university or college that contains your name, your photo, your signature, the date the card was issued, and the date the card expires. If you bring this form of identification, you will also need to bring one of the following: an enrollment verification letter, a class schedule, a tuition fee receipt, or a certified campus housing list. Polling places that serve large student populations will likely have a certified campus housing list.

The following photo IDs are acceptable only if they are current:

  • a veteran’s photo identification card issued by Veteran Affairs; or
  • a certificate of naturalization that was issued on or after November 8, 2014; or
  • a driving receipt issued by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (valid for 45 days); or
  • an identification card receipt issued by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (valid for 45 days); or
  • a receipt issued through the ID petition process (IDPP), which is valid for either 45 or 60 days).

Challenges to a voter’s eligibility

Any Wisconsin qualified elector or any poll worker can challenge a voter’s eligibility to vote. However, the challenge grounds are very narrow. The challenger must “know[] or suspect[]” that voter is not eligible because the voter is not a U.S. citizen, is not 18 years old, has not resided in the district for at least 10 consecutive days, is a felon and not “off paper,” has been adjudicated incompetent to vote, or has previously voted in the same election.

The challenger is then placed under oath by the election inspector and must identify the grounds for the challenge. If there are no permissible grounds for the challenge, the challenger is dismissed. The elector must then answer under oath question about eligibility related to the challenged. Challenged voters can obtain their ballots if they fully answer all questions in a way that confirms their eligibility to vote.

Voters cannot be challenged on their eligibility because of their inability to speak English or their fluidity in English or because their name is on a foreclosure list or because they have outstanding parking tickets. Further, no challenger can demand to see a voter’s identification or question voters in line or say that a voter “doesn’t look right.”

Polling place conduct

Any member of the public is allowed under Wisconsin law to observe a polling place; however, the chief election inspector at the polling place may limit the number of people representing the same organization or candidate. Thus, if a dozen people purporting to represent one of the candidates show up to observe, the chief election inspector may limit that number. All observes must show a photo ID, sign in, and identify the organization or candidate they represent.

While observers must be allowed to “readily observe all public aspects of the voting process” from an observation area 3 to 8 feet from where voters register and where they receive their ballots, observers cannot interact with voters or handle original election documents or use a cell phone to make voice calls. No observer can wear any clothing or buttons related to any candidate or party or that states or implies that the observer is a governmental official or has any authority related to the voting process. No observer is allowed to take your picture or video you while you are in the polling place and the polls are open.

The chief election inspector has the sole authority to remove any observer who does not follow her commands or who engages in offending conduct that the chief election inspector considers to threaten the orderly conduct of the election or interferes with voting.

Along similar lines, both the federal and state government have voter anti-intimidate statutes. Under Wisconsin law, it is a class I felony to threaten force or violence in order to induce someone to vote or refrain from voting or do anything that causes a voter to vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate.

Under federal law, anyone who threatens, intimidates, or attempts to prevent an elector from voting or from voting for the candidate of their choice will be fined and imprisoned for not more than one year.

The right to vote is a crucial right, and anyone who is eligible to vote should do so. As we say in our house, you can’t complain about the outcome if you didn’t vote. So get on out there tomorrow.

*There’s certainly more out there on election laws; I’ve tried to provide information only on the parts that would likely be applicable to most voters. The Wisconsin Elections Commission has a list of frequently asked questions here.

**Two other forms of proof of residency would be a contract or intake document prepared by a residential care facility that says that the registrant currently lives in the facility or an affidavit on public or private social service agency letterhead, identifying a homeless voter and describing that person’s residence for voting purposes.

One thought on “An Election Day Primer for Wisconsin Voters*”

  1. Thank You for this easy to understand primer on voting. You hit the key points that I have been asked as an advocate for people with disabilities. People have been discouraged from voting because they were not able to voice the reasons they want to vote for a candidate. I have said, “If you are qualified to vote, then it is your right and duty to vote.” They can vote for who they like or dislike the least, on a ‘gut feeling’ about a candidate, or because they flipped a coin to decide. There is no correct way to choose a candidate to vote for. Flipping a coin may sound like a uninformed, silly way to choose by some. But, “My family has always voted Republican (or whatever party)” seems like an absolutely foolish way to me.
    So, If you are qualified to vote, you have no excuse. It is your right and duty, no matter how or who you decide to vote for. If for no other reason, vote so you can say “I can complain because I voted!”

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