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This page http://tinyurl.com/ClosedPP

    Last updated Monday, October 17, 2011

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Protect Voters from Surprise Polling Place Changes or Closures

Hot Item - SB-116 will undercut voter protection against surprise polling place changes.   This bill (actually senate sub amendment 1), will likely pass in October 2011.  Fair Elections Wisconsin is asking for an amendment, so that instead of undercutting voter protections, the bill will enhance voter protection.  Please contact your representatives.

 Letter and report is below:

For printable versions, see our letter and attachment.

                                                                                                August 24, 2011

Representative Gary Tauchen, Chair, Assembly Committee on Election and Campaign Reform

Dear Representative Tauchen:

After the public hearing for SB-116, it was amended to weaken protection for voters against an unexpected change in their polling place.  We look forward to presenting testimony against this change at a public hearing held by your committee on this amended bill.  (The major provision of SB-116 is moving the September primary to August.)

Under current law, municipalities must establish polling places 60 days in advance of a fall election.  The amended version of SB-116 would reduce this to 30 days.

We are prepared to present evidence that 30 days is not adequate for voters to be informed.  This summer, Glendale decided to close polling places approximately 30 days before the election.  20% of the Glendale electorate appeared at the closed polling places expecting to vote.  Citizen volunteers, concerned by the short notice, directed them to the proper polling place (up to 6 miles away), but many were on their way to work and unable to go to a second location.  The full report is below.

Instead of weakening voter protection, we ask that SB-116 be amended to improve voter protection.  Attached to this letter is our detailed proposal.

We discovered these weaknesses in current procedures for notifying voters about polling place changes:

  • There is currently no requirement that municipal clerks update the Statewide Voter Registration System.  Thus, voters checking for their polling place at Voter Public Access (the GAB website) may get wrong information. Voters who recently registered will be sent verification postcards that might have the wrong polling place listed.
  • There is currently no requirement that a notice be placed at a closed polling place. Exception:   A notice is currently required for an election that is solely for a school district.
  • There is currently no requirement that voters be informed by mail, even if the polling place is changed from the primary to the final election.
  • There is no deadline by which polling places are established for an election that is solely for a school district.
  • The only notification required is a newspaper notice the day before an election.  While this is important, many people are no longer getting information from newspapers.

We would be happy to talk with you, and look forward to appearing at an upcoming public hearing for SB-116.

cc:  Members of the Assembly Committee on Election and Campaign Reform, Kevin Kennedy, GAB

Amend SB-116 to Protect Voters

Currently, municipalities must establish polling places 60 days before fall elections.  SB-116 was amended after the public hearing to reduce this to 30 days, thereby reducing voters’ protection against being surprised by a polling place change.

SB-116 has passed the Senate and been referred to the Assembly Committee On Election and Campaign Reform. (The companion bill is AB-161.)

Below are proposed amendments to SB-116, to improve protection for voters:

  • The governing body of the municipality must establish polling places 45 calendar days before each regularly scheduled election.  For special elections, municipalities must establish polling places 35 days before the election.
  • For elections that are solely for the school district, 120.06 (9) currently allows the school board to select the polling places.  This proposal would require the selection to be made 45 days before the election.
  • If a municipality closes or changes a polling place from the previous election, or if voters are assigned to a different polling place (e.g. redistricting), the requirements in Tables 1 and 2 apply.
  • The requirements in the tables apply to all elections:  spring, fall, special, and solely school district, with the exceptions listed in the tables.

Table 1

Municipal Clerk has the responsibility to:



Ensure that SVRS is updated with correct polling place information

At least 30 days before each election*

Voters have a right to expect that they will get correct info from VPA, and from the verification postcards sent to new registrants.

Notify County Clerk about polling place changes.

At least 30 days before each election

Many County Clerks maintain websites with polling place locations.  Many voters get info from County Clerks.

Notify all candidates for all offices affected by the change, for which the municipal clerk is the filing officer, by either email, phone, fax, in person, or letter.

At least 30 days before each election

Candidates’ campaigns will be a conduit for information to voters.  Clerks should be encouraged (but not required) to notify all candidates on the ballot that are affected by the change.

Post a notice at each polling place that has been closed since the previous election.

Election Day

Required now only for elections that are solely for school districts.

*Exception:  If there is less than 30 days between elections (e.g. special election), then this update is required no later than 1 week after the previous election.

Table 2 - Exceptional circumstances




If a polling place is changed between a primary and the final election, each registered voter must be informed by mail.**

Clerk may choose the optimum time

Changes between the primary and the final election are very confusing for voters.

If any of the deadlines in table 1 are not met (for any reason), each registered voter must be informed of the polling place change by mail.***

Clerk may choose the optimum time

Mail to voters is the best notification method.

If there is an unexpected emergency (such as a polling place fire) that requires a polling place change later than 45 days before an election (35 for special elections), the Clerk and the municipality are not in violation of the law.

Actions in both tables required as soon as feasible

Expected to be a rare occurrence.

** For elections that are solely for the school district, the school board assumes this cost.

*** For elections that are solely for the school district, the school board assumes this cost if they miss the 45-day deadline.

Note that under this proposal, the municipality (and the school district when applicable) retains full authority to establish polling places. 

Paul Malischke  malischke@yahoo.com

What we did on Election Day July 12, 2011

28 different volunteers stood outside four of the closed polls in Glendale on July 12th.  Their purpose was to inform any voters who showed up at the closed polls that the poll was closed and that the single, open poll was at City Hall.  The volunteers also offered voters a map from the closed poll to the open poll and encouragement to go to that poll to vote. 

Why we did it:

We were very concerned that people in Glendale were going to be denied their right to vote on July 12th because of the closed polls.  Tanya Lohr, the organizer of the effort, called the Glendale City Hall to ask what was going to be done to inform Glendale residents of the change.  They would not give her specifics, but she was assured that voters would know about the change and that few people would show up at the closed polls.  However, it became increasingly obvious that this was not the case, so we decided to stand at the closed polls in order to protect people’s right to vote. 

What we found:

We were anticipating 3-4 voters per 2-hour shift to show up at the closed polls.  What we found instead was an average of 21 voters who showed up at each closed poll per 2-hour shift, which includes the last shift where less than 10 people showed up per location.  A minimum of 505 voters came to the closed polls on July 12th fully expecting to be able to vote there.  Our conclusion was that Glendale voters had NOT been properly informed of the change.

How we think the closed polls negatively effected voter turn out:

  1. Even with our presence, the closed polls kept numerous Glendale residents from voting on July 12th.  They showed up at the closed poll on their way to work and did not have time to go back to City Hall.  We encouraged them to vote after work, but many of them weren’t going to be back in time. 
  2. Due to the one, open poll, the lines at that polling place became very long.  In fact, there were times when the wait was over one hour long.  Numerous people left the line because they didn’t have time to wait that long to vote.  Had the other polls been open, there wouldn’t have been that long of a wait.
  3. Several of the people who came to the closed polls were so angry about it that they said they weren’t going to vote anymore.  They stated that it was obvious that their vote doesn’t matter anymore so to hell with the whole system. 
  4. One woman walked over a mile to the closed poll with her daughter.   They could not walk an additional 6 miles to the one, open poll. 
  5. One woman unloaded her four young children before our volunteers could get to her to inform her that the poll was closed.  She gave an exasperated sigh and said there was no way she was going to pack, unpack and pack her kids all up again to vote in another location.  She did not vote that day.
  6. In general, voters left the closed polls angry, frustrated, and in many cases, feeling undervalued.  That’s not what voting should be about.  Voting should be about people feeling empowered about their ability to have a voice in their government and feeling proud that they were able to use that voice. 

In general, 20% of the voters in Glendale that day showed up at a closed poll first.  It was obvious to us that either the City of Glendale did not actually follow the recommended method of informing voters of changes to polling places OR the recommended method is in need of revision in order to reach more voters.

Editor's note:  Also see the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Election Day article, and this MJS follow-up article on confusion for the next election.

The main Senate committee for election bills is Transportations and Elections (T&E).

3 Republicans: Chair is Mary Lazich (New Berlin).  Vice Chair is Joe Leibham (Sheboygan).  Member: Frank Lasee (Bellevue).
2 Democrats: Jon Erpenbach (Middleton); Spencer Coggs (Milwaukee).

The main Assembly committee for election bills is Election and Campaign Reform  (E&CR).

5 Republicans: Chair is Gary Tauchen (Bonduel).  Vice-Chair is Kathy Bernier (Chippewa Falls).  Members:  Jeff Stone (Greendale), Don Pridemore (Hartford), Chad Weininger (Green Bay).

3 Democrats: Jocasta Zamarippa (Milwaukee),  Kelda Helen Roys (Madison), Fred Kessler (Milwaukee).

Contact Paul Malischke about this page.