[Image via youtube]
One of my favorite things about elections is how intensely human they are; of course, they’re deeply important to our system of democracy – but they are also an endless source of insight into how people think and act. I was reminded of this by a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story today about the kinds of complaints the Wisconsin Election Commission gets on Election Day:
The Wisconsin Election Commission received a complaint on April 3 about a Brookfield area school holding a bake sale that might be in violation of election rules.
If it isn’t bake sales, it might be doors to the polls that are locked due to the freezing weather or questions about how close campaign signs can be placed to the polls. Even ducks — yes, ducks — can be an issue for the Commission.
The complainant in Brookfield said in order to enter the polling room, voters had to pass by a bake-sale table in the hallway, which was not set up beyond the entrance to the polling room.
Reid Magney, public information officer for the Commission, said a city clerk checked it out and everything checked out fine.
“While you would pass by it to go in, it is not blocking your path. In this case, there is not an issue,” Magney said.
Magney said every polling place is different, but ideally if there would be a bake sale; it would be set up where people can pass by it on the way out.
On Election Day, the Election Commission is where people turn to with complaints. Magney said there is always some wrinkle that comes up.
A decade ago, in a humorous story people still talk about., Magney said a polling place couldn’t be opened because the key was under a rock, frozen.
Questions or complaints pop up over whether a person is allowed to park in the parking lot of the polling place with a sign for a specific candidate. Another issue is whether people are allowed to stand across the street holding signs up for a particular candidate, among and other election-type questions.
In recent years, there was an issue with the ballot selfies. Voters would take a picture with their marked ballot and post it on social media. The problem is: It is against the law to show a marked ballot to anyone.
This law is intended to prevent election bribery; no one is going to pay you if you just say who you voted for. And although well meaning, selfies could be used nefariously.
“People want proof. For that reason, you are not supposed to show your ballot,” Magney said.
So far there have been no complaints about ballot selfies. Magney encourages pictures with the “I voted” stickers or signs.
If you have witnessed efforts to commit any kind of fraud or corruption in the voting process, you may report this to local law enforcement official,s such as your sheriff’s or police department. You may also report this to the District Attorney in your county or to state law enforcement officials at the Wisconsin Department of Justice at (608) 266-1221.
But the election commission is often the first place to be consulted.
Something to squawk about
“This morning a Winnebago County clerk called because a voter wanted to bring in a cage of ducks into the place,” Magney said.
A voter wanted to put a sign on the cage saying, “If you don’t vote, you can’t squawk.”
The Commission’s advise was to keep it more than 100 feet from the polling place, which is what the rule is for election signs, too, by the way.
Depending on where a voter lives, the Commission has heard hiccups with the weather, especially up north.
This morning a question came up again from up north. The person who was supposed to plow the parking lot hadn’t done it. One of the candidates offered to plow out the lot. Magney said they were asking if this was acceptable.
The presence of a candidate at the polling place gives the appearance of electioneering, according to WEC literature. A candidate should not be at the polling place on election day for any reason other than an official purpose. When the candidate comes to the polling place to vote on election day, the candidate must leave the polling place as soon as they have finished voting, according to the WEC.
“So far we haven’t heard of serious problems,” he said.
This story is a reminder of how many different considerations are involved in managing voting in a community; indeed, I’m sure that every election official across the country has their own favorite story of an odd problem or dispute on Election Day. As I’m fond of saying, there is no small stuff in elections – or, as Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannadanna would say, “if it’s not one thing it’s another” – and that’s just one reason I keep coming back for more. Stay tuned …