February 14, 2016

GAB stands by policy changes

The state Government Accountability Board is reaffirming its policies on election observers and the use of electronic documents as proof of residency for voters. The move comes despite testimony from several people Tuesday who raised concerns about the rules adopted earlier this year.

Carol Boettcher, an elections officer in Cedarburg, says allowing people to show proof of residency on smart phones could be very confusing for older poll workers who may not know how to operate the devices. She urged the agency’s board to reconsider the rules, arguing they could add additional stress for poll workers.

The GAB voted in August to allow digital documents to be accepted at the polls to show proof of residency. The board said at the time that the change made sense, considering many people now get most of their bills and bank statements online. Those documents are frequently used instead of a driver’s license to show a voter’s current address when they register at the polls on Election Day.

Board members on Tuesday also heard arguments against a rule that requires election observers to stay at least six feet away from poll workers and voters. Richard Esenberg with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty questioned the restrictions the rule places on observers when digital documents are presented at the polls on a smart phone. He says it’s already hard to distinguish those documents in paper form and will be “nearly impossible” to make them out on a small screen from several feet away.

However, GAB attorney Mike Haas says election observers don’t necessarily have a right to see the details of what a voter offers as proof of residency though. He says they only need to be able to see that a poll worker requested the information and it was then provided by the voter.

Haas says the distance rule is intended to keep poll watchers from disrupting the process. While he admits most follow the rules and are generally just concerned citizens, the GAB has seen a growing number of complaints in recent elections about observers who are aggressive or try to be intimidating. Haas says it’s just too much to ignore.

Board member voted 5-1 Tuesday to keep both policies in place for the November 6th election.

AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (1:24)

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