MILWAUKEE — Distrust in the election process is leading to more Republican and Democrat representatives signing up to inspect Wisconsin elections this year than ever before.
Concerns over election integrity from the 2020 presidential election are spilling over into 2022 in Milwaukee. Republicans and Democrats stand ready to work the polls and inspect absentee ballots in unprecedented numbers.
“This is the first time we’re seeing this many nominees by both parties,” said Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg. “It is in state statute and they do have first grabs at election inspectors, but this is really the first time we’ve seen them utilized.”
Woodall-Vogg says the Republican and Democratic parties of Wisconsin have nominated more than 200 people each to serve as inspectors for Milwaukee’s central counting location. That’s where all of the city’s absentee and early in-person voting ballots are verified and counted on election day.
Just two years ago for the presidential election, 20 Democrats and 45 Republicans served as inspectors at Milwaukee’s central count.
"We want to make sure what's happening at central count is legal and legitimate,” said Republican Party of Wisconsin Chairman Paul Farrow. "I think people will say that we've got issues with our elections and we want to make sure we have fair and open elections. So we've asked our membership across the entire state to say, ‘will you be our front line?’”
Farrow says 5,000 Republicans have signed up to be poll workers or election inspectors statewide, but he admits there’s a particular focus on monitoring Milwaukee and Dane County elections.
"If a clerk starts to cure a ballot, currently that is against state statute and we will challenge it,” Farrow said.
Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Ben Wikler says his members are wanting to serve as poll workers and inspectors simply to ensure they have equal representation.
"There's a conspiracy theory on the right that's driven a surge of interest by Trump supporters in signing up to be poll watchers and observers, and there's a deep commitment to democracy that's driving Democrats to be poll workers,” he said.
Due to limited space inside Milwaukee’s central count, Woodall-Vogg says both parties will be allowed to have 45 inspectors help process absentee ballots on Feb. 15. The rest will be on stand-by for upcoming elections in 2022.
"The great news for voters is that when there are poll watchers, it makes it more likely that all the rules that make it easy to vote in Wisconsin will be followed because there will be people there making sure that those rules are followed,” Wikler said.
With a majority of brand new inspectors at central count on election day, Woodall-Vogg says it could slow down the absentee ballot counting process for the spring primary. Below is a sample ballot for Milwaukee's Feb. 15 election.