Green Bay Clerk agrees to implement changes in response to poll watcher lawsuit

A group of poll watchers sued Green Bay over lack of access to observe the voting
Published: Nov. 2, 2022 at 9:06 AM CDT|Updated: Nov. 2, 2022 at 6:12 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The City of Green Bay implemented changes to give poll watchers more access during the in-person absentee voting process.

A temporary injunction was ordered in Brown County Court Wednesday in response to a lawsuit filed against City Clerk Celestine Jeffreys alleging she is restricting access to election observers. The plaintiffs listed are Nathan DeLorey, Randy Wery, Patricia Schick, and Denise Vetter.

This lawsuit comes less than one week before the Nov. 8 election.

The suit claims Jeffreys has been “prohibiting members of the public from observing all aspects of the in-person absentee ballot voting process that has been underway since October 25, 2022 at the office of the City Clerk for the City of Green Bay.”

Vetter told Action 2 News, “I was uncomfortable, because my understanding was that an observer has the right to view the entire voting process which everything from getting your ballot to your ballot being dropped off and certified.”

The suit sought a temporary restraining order and injunction from “prohibiting her from violating Wis. Stat. § 7.41, which requires that municipal clerks allow the public to observe all public aspects of the in-person absentee ballot voting process, and an order and a declaratory judgment regarding the proper construction of the Wisconsin Statutes requiring that the public be afforded the ability to observe all public aspects of the in-person absentee ballot voting process.”

The suit claims Jeffreys has split the voting into two areas. The observers allege part of the process is in Jeffreys’s office and part is in the public hallway outside the office.

“Although there are two different areas where the in-person absentee ballot voting process takes place, Jeffreys has prohibited observers from observing any aspect of the voting process that takes place in the public hallway outside of her office,” reads the suit.

“In particular, Jeffreys has restricted observers to a small area of her office, where they can only observe electors coming into her office to check-in, register to vote, and obtain an in-person absentee ballot—but they are expressly prohibited from observing any aspect of the voting process that takes place in the public hallway including, but not limited to, the witness certification process and depositing the in-person absentee ballot in the ballot box,” reads the complaint.

Prior to Wednesday, there was not a designated space for election observers to observe in the hallway. Ultimately, both sides came to an agreement in which the city would remedy the access issue.

“Is the city able to implement the court’s intended order?” Judge Marc Hammer asked.

“Yes,” the city’s attorney responded.

“When would the city be able to implement that by?”

“2 P.M., Your Honor.”

The city created a spot for election observers -- and the first person to sit in the newly designated space was one of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit.

Denise Vetter told Action 2 News she wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the lawsuit but she was happy to see changes were made.

“I’m confident because there are other people in the clerk’s office observing there. Unfortunately, one person can’t observe the entire process. So I can’t say that I watched any one voter come in, get their ballot, mark their ballot and drop it off, but I can see one half of it,” Vetter said.

The plaintiffs, the city, and the judge were satisfied with the solution.

During Wednesday’s court hearing, the city attorneys argued the lawsuit was improperly filed and stated the complaint should have first been filed with the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

The City of Green Bay released this public statement Wednesday evening:

The City of Green Bay always works to ensure a positive voter experience and a free and fair election process. In response to a legal action brought by the Republican National Committee regarding rules of observation, the City has provided an additional area of observation. The modifications made will continue to preserve and protect the integrity of the in-person absentee voting process while protecting voter security and freedom.

The City made its plans for In-Person-Absentee-Voting public, including rules and regulations for observers. Since the beginning of IPAV, observers have been positioned inside the City Clerk’s office within six feet of the counters where voters register or obtain their absentee ballots. Previously, broad requests for unrestricted access to observe every aspect of the voting process have been received, but granting those requests likely would have resulted in intrusions upon voters actively casting their ballots, which is not legally observable under state law.

Today’s decision merely confirms the City’s ability to accommodate observers in accordance with state election law.

A judge granted a temporary injunction and the two sides worked out an agreement