There will be no selfies — or any other photos taken by observers — at the polls this August. The state elections board decided Monday to support a rule banning election observers from taking photos and videotaping what happens at the polls, including selfies and photos of family members. The state Government Accountability Board, which oversees state elections, has banned observers from using cameras for years and did so again in a 4-2 voice vote Monday. Thomas Barland, John Franke, Gerald Nichol and Elsa Lamelas voted in favor of upholding a section that prohibited cameras in polling areas, while Timothy Vocke and Harold Froelich said the prohibition should be removed to allow for an experiment to see whether cameras could be used responsibly in the partisan primary Aug. 12. The board’s ruling will likely stay in place for the primary election and Nov. 4 general election. The issue arose anew as the board finalized administrative rules on election observers. The two legislators who oversee elections committees — Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) and Rep. Kathleen Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls) — oppose the board’s camera ban and have asked for changes to the rules, according to a memo from the accountability board’s director, Kevin Kennedy. Lazich and Bernier did not return phone messages requesting comment.
“It is the consensus of board staff that the prohibition on the use of cameras to photograph voters or election inspectors has helped to prevent distractions and disagreements at the polls over the past eight years, and that permitting cameras will lead to more instances of conflicts between observers and voters, or between observers and election inspectors,” Kennedy wrote. Whether to allow cameras is the latest flashpoint over what election observers are allowed to do.
Observers and their supporters say they should be allowed to closely watch and record what happens at the polls to identify any irregularities; their detractors argue some observers can be overly aggressive and intimidate voters. Some even argued they ought to have the right to take a selfie or photograph a loved one while casting a vote. In April, Gov. Scott Walker signed a law to allow poll watchers to be stationed 3 to 8 feet away from the table where voters check in.