RACINE COUNTY — The Racine County Sheriff’s Office is reminding residents that voter intimidation is illegal. Both Wisconsin law and federal law include a number of protections to ensure free and fair elections.
Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said in a message to The Journal Times: “We intend to follow the guidance outlined by the Attorney General as it pertains to voter intimidation and other violations regarding voting. Any violations will be forwarded to our district attorney for review.”
In a statement last week, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said “Voter intimidation is a felony, and it’s an attack on our democratic system. Anyone who commits that crime must be vigorously prosecuted.”
Additional patrol units will be in the polling place areas to “ensure our community members that their safety is at our upmost priority while they are exercising their most valued constitutional right,” Schmaling said Monday.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice is encourages witnesses and victims of alleged voter intimidation to “alert an election official and call local law enforcement immediately. If you are being threatened with violence, call 911.”
No person may use or threaten force to induce or compel any person to vote or refrain from voting, according to Wisconsin state statutes. That includes impeding or preventing someone from voting by “abduction, duress or any fraudulent device or contrivance.”
Further, no person may compel upon an elector to vote or to refrain from voting for or against a particular candidate.
Since the presidential election is federal, more federal laws apply protecting voters from intimidation.
Acts that could constitute voter intimidation include:
- Verbal threats of violence
- Confronting voters while wearing military-style or official-looking uniforms
- Intimidating display of firearms
- Disrupting voting lines or blocking entrances
- Aggressively approaching voters’ cars or writing down license plate numbers
- Following voters to, from or within polling places
- Directly and aggressively challenging voters’ qualifications
- Appearing to patrol or police the voting line while armed
In addition, “generally applicable statutes” can apply in or near polling places in the same way they apply anywhere else. Under Wisconsin’s disorderly conduct statute, no person may engage in violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, unreasonably loud or otherwise disorderly conduct under circumstances in which the conduct tends to cause or provoke a disturbance.
Wisconsin state law does not specifically prohibit or restrict the possession of firearms in or near a polling place. However, it does prohibit or restrict firearms on certain categories of property. Therefore, if a polling place is in a location covered by a state firearms law, that law is applicable to the polling place.
In general, an owner or occupant of property (governmental or private) can place limits or conditions on access to that property, and those limits or conditions may include prohibiting the possession of firearms on the property.
Where an owner or occupant imposes such a firearms prohibition, notice of the restriction must be given either verbally or by posting written notice in a prominent and reasonably visible place near all entrances to the restricted area.
Militia units, other considerations
Article I, Section 20 of the Wisconsin Constitution forbids armed men in self-declared militia units from operating outside state authority, stating that “the military shall be in strict subordination to the civil power.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution does not preclude the states from prohibiting private paramilitary organizations. But, in Wisconsin, it is a felony for any person to “assume to act in an official capacity or to perform an official function, knowing that he or she is not the public officer or public employee … that he or she assumes to be.”
If violations of the laws described above take place, enforcement of those laws can help ensure that the election is free and fair. Absent information that a specific violation has or will occur, however, minimizing the visible presence of law enforcement at and near polling places can help avoid disruption of the voting process.
State law prohibits the possession of a firearm, open or concealed, in a polling place located in a K-12 school. This prohibition does not apply to a law enforcement officer acting in his or her official capacity.
Also, it’s prohibited to possess a firearm, open or concealed, on the grounds of a K-12 school. This prohibition does not apply to law enforcement.
State law generally prohibits the open carrying of firearms on public property within 1,000 feet of K-12 school property. This prohibition does not apply on private property within the 1,000-foot zone. A person with a concealed carry license may carry a concealed firearm within the 1,000-foot zone, but may not carry on school property.
State law does not prohibit firearms inside vehicles located on school property or in a 1,000-foot school zone, as long as the firearms are unloaded, encased and in a locked firearms rack.
For the areas outside a polling place located in a building other than a K-12 school, the open or concealed carrying of a firearm may be prohibited. State law prohibits the open or concealed carrying of a firearm on property that has been lawfully posted to prohibit the possession of firearms.
State law prohibits the open carrying of a firearm in a polling place located in a state or local government building. This prohibition does not apply to a law enforcement officer who is carrying a firearm in the line of duty.
Licensed concealed carry may be prohibited in a state or local government building. State law prohibits licensed concealed carry in any polling place located in a state or local government building that has been lawfully posted to prohibit the possession of a concealed firearm.
The open or concealed carrying of a firearm may be prohibited in a university or college building. State law prohibits the open or concealed carrying of a firearm in any polling place location in a university or college building that has been lawfully posted to prohibit the possession of a concealed firearm.
The open or concealed carrying of a firearm also may be prohibited in a privately owned building. State law prohibits the open or concealed carrying of a firearm in any polling place location in a privately owned building that has been lawfully posted to prohibit the possession of a concealed firearm.
In Photos: Opposing political views, but still friendly neighbors
Marco Diaz and Tom Marquis are voting for differential presidential candidates, but the Ohio Street next-door neighbors remain best friends. You'll know their houses when you pass them: Their yards are filled with Biden and Trump signs, respectively.
Photos by Dee Holzel of The Journal Times.