AG Kaul: Voter intimidation is illegal, breaking that law risks jail time

Elections Commission to issue follow-up instructions for elections officials

Proud Boys at Virginia 2nd Amendment Rally (2020 Jan) by Anthony Crider | Flickr CC BY 2.0

Anyone planning on scaring voters at the polls had better be ready to go to jail, said Attorney General Josh Kaul.

Voter intimidation is against the law in Wisconsin. And Kaul wants to make certain voters know it  — and know what to do if they witness or experience any kind of intimidation at the polls on Nov. 3 or while early voting.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul speaking
Attorney General Josh Kaul (photo by Susan Ruggles CC BY 2.0)

“Voter intimidation is illegal,” said Kaul in a release. “If someone breaks the laws that protect against voter intimidation, they should be prepared to spend time behind bars.”

Wisconsin law not only prohibits using or threatening force to keep them from voting — it also forbids any effort to  compel someone to vote or to influence his or her voting decision according to the DOJ release. Also illegal is using duress or fraud to impede or prevent someone from voting.

Anyone who experiences — or witnesses — voter intimidation is urged to alert an election official and call local law enforcement “immediately.” If it takes the form of a threat of violence, call 911.

In a recent Wisconsin Examiner article on the topic of poll watchers, egged on by President Donald Trump, potentially showing up with guns at the polls, groups tracking that topic stated that while guns are not banned at polling locations in Wisconsin, threats and intimidation are — and local agencies must make certain voters know that and know what to do.

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Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, stressed that educating election officials on state law is crucial in combating misinformation and protecting voters.

This is exactly the type of guidance we are hoping for,” responds Horwitz. “Clear guidance from the Wisconsin Department of Justice gives voters the confidence that their polling locations will be safe and that local election officials and law enforcement have the tools to prevent voter intimidation.” He adds that since his group issued the report — along with Guns Down America — four out of the five states the groups highlighted have issued similar guidance. “We are very pleased that the Department of Justice is proactively safeguarding the voting process,” Horwitz adds.

Headshot of Josh Horwitz, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
Josh Horwitz, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
Photo by dennis drenner

To make certain that the election is secure and that voters can vote safely, the Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation staffs the Wisconsin State Intelligence Center (WSIC). 

WSIC shares information and intelligence with federal, state, local, tribal and campus law enforcement, as well as the fire service, public health, the military and emergency management. 

This coordinated information collection helps root out potential interference and other threats to the election — both domestic and foreign. The state Department of Justice (DOJ) becomes the information hub and a central resource and it also aids the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesman Reid Magney said Kaul’s directives are a piece of his agency’s plan and more details are imminent. “We’ll also have some guidance for clerks by Wednesday or Thursday” after the commission’s Tuesday meeting, he added. 

Kaul underscores that depending on the situation and the facts, illegal voter intimidation could take — but is not limited to — any of the following forms:

  • Brandishing or displaying firearms in an intimidating or threatening manner in or near a polling place;
  • Engaging in disorderly behavior in or near a polling place; or
  • Preventing access to a polling place by making threats or engaging in intimidating behavior.

“Additionally, it is illegal for private groups to conduct law enforcement or military activities under state and federal law,” DOJ stated its release.