Attorney: Wisconsin Officials Can Ban Weapons at Polls

By | May 15, 2012

Local governments can ban concealed weapons at all manner of polling sites, from city halls to assisted living facilities, state election officials have concluded.

Elections appear to qualify as special events under Wisconsin’s concealed carry law, Government Accountability Board attorney Mike Haas wrote in a memo. The law 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 and his staff prepared the memo after board members and local clerks asked how the law applied at the polls. He said GAB staff will recommend local officials to come up with their own weapons policies for polls if the state Department of Justice agrees with his interpretations. The staff already has sent the memo to DOJ for review, he said.

DOJ spokeswoman Dana Brueck had no immediate comment.

The GAB and local election officials are in the midst of preparing for a June 5 recall election pitting Republican Gov. Scott Walker against Democrat Tom Barrett, Milwaukee’s mayor. The recall was 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.