Poll watchers to get engaged on Election Day

MADISON, Wis. – As Wisconsin’s highest offices come up for grabs Tuesday, with many races too tight to call, election leaders said the number of observers expected at the polls is up.

According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, anyone can sign up to be a poll watcher, even on Election Day, so long as they aren’t a candidate. They only need to check in with a valid photo ID, sign the log and put on a badge.

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said poll watchers were traditionally used by partisan groups to see if people who pledged to vote actually did, but with technological developments and unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud during the 2020 election, that focus has shifted.

“It’s turned toward trying to observe and or check for fraud, perceived fraud,” McDonell said. “They’re following up on sort of the big lie that there’s people voting who shouldn’t be voting.”

Dane County GOP Chairman Scott Grabins said he’s heard a lot from people looking for transparency and interested in becoming poll watchers.

“It doesn’t mean that you’re always looking for something nefarious. It could be very simple— it could honest mistakes,” Grabins said. “It could be, you know, somebody who has a friend that comes in and in that case like ‘no, I don’t need to see your ID’ or something.”

He said to prepare for Tuesday’s election, they’ve trained people to keep an eye out for improper day-of registrations, absentee ballot counting and voter ID checks.

McDonell said overall, they have more people interested in being observers than in years past, which was also the case in August. He said things went smoothly in the primaries and expects the same on Tuesday.

“I think it’s a good thing. It’s important that we have folks with their eyes on everything learning the process,” he said. “The key is they have to listen to the instructions of the chief inspector or they’ll be removed from the polling place.”

Poll watchers will have a designated area at the polls to observe and are not allowed to interact with voters. All questions, concerns, and challenges must go through the location’s manager.