By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Local governments can ban concealed weapons at all manner of polling sites, from city halls to assisted living facilities, state election officials have concluded.
Wisconsin’s concealed carry law went into effect in November. The state has held three elections since then with no concealed carry-related problems at the polls reported.
Gerald Nichol, a member of the Government Accountability Board, the entity that oversees elections, and local clerks have been asking about how the law applies at the polls for several months. The board has been too busy preparing for this spring’s recall elections to develop answers until now, board spokesman Reid Magney said. He wasn’t sure when the first requests were made.
GAB attorney Mike Haas wrote in a memo he prepared for Tuesday’s board meeting that elections appear to qualify as special events under the law, which allows special event organizers – in this case, local election officials – to ban weapons as long as they post signs at every entrance stating as much.
“Wisconsin’s concealed carry law … permits municipalities to prohibit concealed firearms at polling places during elections, whether or not the polling place is located on municipal property,” Haas wrote.
Other portions of state law grant local election officials the authority to maintain order at the polls, Haas added. That means they can order someone with a concealed weapon off the site if the person is disrupting the election or distracting poll workers, regardless of whether any sign has been posted, he concluded.
The concealed carry law specifically bans hidden weapons in schools, which means election officials don’t have to take any action to bar them from polling sites in elementary, middle and high schools.
Haas has asked the state Department of Justice to review his conclusions. If DOJ agrees with him, he wrote, he’ll have GAB staff recommend local officials come up with their own weapons policies for the polls.
DOJ spokeswoman Dana Brueck confirmed Monday that the agency had received the memo and a review was under way. However, she said any feedback for the GAB would be confidential attorney-client communication.
The GAB and local election officials are in the midst of preparing for six recall elections on June 5 pitting Republican Gov. Scott Walker against Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and a host of Democrats against five other GOP officeholders. The recalls were spurred by Democrats angry with Walker for pushing a contentious law last year stripping most public workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights.
Walker said he made the move to help balance the state budget and give local governments the flexibility they needed to cope with deep cuts in state aid. Democrats believe the move was really intended to hurt organized labor, one of their key constituencies.