By Bianca Shaw and Brittany Vulich

may 9, 2024

Following the 2020 presidential election, election officials across the U.S. have received unprecedented scrutiny and harassment from disgruntled election deniers. These anti-voter activists are fueled by disinformation and lies that claim our elections are not secure and that ineligible voters are casting ballots. 

While Wisconsin state law offers protections for assault against election officials, many of the threats towards election officials happen year-round, are not reported 100% of the time, and do not always lead to an assault or an arrest. With no state protection of clerks against verbal threats in Wisconsin, this ongoing issue has been challenging enough to make even experienced election officials and poll workers resign. 

Although some clerks face an increasingly hostile work environment, in Wisconsin, they  have not received the same legislative support as clerks in nearby other swing states. Michigan for example, the state legislature has bolstered legal protections for election workers by deterring intimidation and obstruction during elections and imposing felony penalties for hindering election operations. These measures aim to foster a secure environment, enabling election workers to fulfill their duties and maintain the ethics of the electoral process. These improvements aim to protect election workers and officials in Michigan by establishing legal safeguards 

While surrounding states are proactively strengthening legal protections for election workers, Wisconsin has lagged behind, with leaders in our state legislature declining to address crucial election administration-related initiatives during the past session, such as funding for Badger Books. They also failed to have the Senate discuss a bill that would have allowed Monday processing of absentee ballots.

Worth noting is that election administration in Wisconsin has also undergone numerous judicial reviews following The Big Lie of 2020. Just two years ago, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in favor of a case that banned absentee ballot drop boxes, a valuable resource for rural, disabled, and elderly voters. However, the court has agreed to revisit this case and will make a decision in May whether to uphold or overturn their decision. Should the court reinstate absentee ballot dropboxes, clerks could face a new barrage of harassment from the anti-drop box voting block come November. 

Clerks are also now scrambling to fill logistical and financial voids, as two vaguely worded constitutional amendments focusing on election administration were ushered in during the election in April. These amendments will ban private grants for election administration activities and have a chilling effect on the activities of nonpartisan organizations like All Voting is Local and others assisting in election administration. 

Clerks in Wisconsin are essentially election heroes. They work year-round to prepare and administer our elections, and they deserve the fullest respect and support from our lawmakers and the public. Point blank, they are the reason Wisconsinites can safely and securely cast their ballots.

But without stronger election policies passed by the state legislature, they will continue to be without the legal protections needed to stay safe from harassment and a hostile environment during the November presidential election. It is incumbent upon our state lawmakers to unanimously and immediately take action and protect our clerks.