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Saturday, January 24, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 31.0° F  Overcast
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Under Wisconsin law, election inspectors nominated by political parties get first dibs
Politics and poll workers
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The Madison City Clerk's Office held a mock election in October to prepare for Voter ID.
The Madison City Clerk's Office held a mock election in October to prepare for Voter ID.
Credit:Carolyn Fath

With partisan politics already at a fever pitch in Wisconsin, an infrequently used state law that gives political parties the upper hand in the selection of poll workers is being resurrected.

"The parties have rediscovered the law," says Reid Magney, spokesperson for the Government Accountability Board.

Magney says that in recent years political parties and municipal clerks have generally ignored the law. "Most clerks have a stable of regular poll workers, and they don't know or care whether folks are Republicans or Democrats. What they know is they are reliable."

Under this law, the two parties that scored the most votes in the last gubernatorial election at each polling location have until Nov. 30 to submit a list of preferred poll workers to election clerks.

These lists take precedence, even when clerks have longstanding poll workers trained and ready to go: "Appointments must be made from the lists submitted by the parties for as long as election inspector positions are available," the GAB wrote in a Nov. 4 letter to municipal clerks around the state.

And that is causing some concern among clerks, whose workload and budgets are already being strained with such new requirements as Voter ID.

"Our concern is that we could end up with people who have never worked an election before and who are untrained," says Diane Hermann-Brown, clerk for the city of Sun Prairie and the elections communications chair for the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association.

Hermann-Brown allows that there is also some concern about heightening political passions at polling places.

"It is going to be more challenging to have people that are there for a political purpose," she says. "Is it going to create a little more stress, a little more tension in the polling facilities?"

Hermann-Brown says that the clerks association has received some concerned reports from the Green Bay and West Bend areas, where the Republican Party has called poll workers from lists obtained from municipal clerks. The poll workers were told that to continue working they would need to join the Republican Party and pay party dues.

"That was a little deceptive," says Hermann-Brown.

While poll workers would have to claim a party affiliation to get on a list submitted by the Republican or Democratic parties, they do not have to officially join a party or pay party dues, says Hermann-Brown.

Nicole Larson, spokeswoman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview but twice emailed a prepared response: "The Republican Party of Wisconsin is committed to a fair election process, and we are in complete compliance with Government Accountability Board rules."

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