Legal Updates


ELECTION DAY STUDENT AND STAFF ABSENCES

March 26, 2019

April 2, 2019 is Election Day in Wisconsin.  Wisconsin residents will vote for a State Supreme Court Justice, Court of Appeals and Circuit Court Judges, and School Board Members; they will also cast ballots for eighty-eight (88) separate referendum questions.  This Legal Update will address several issues which concern school districts on Election Day.

High School Student Election Inspectors

Wisconsin Statutes §§ 7.30(2)(am) and §118.15(3)(d) permit certain qualified high school students to work at the polls as election inspectors on Election Day.

In order to be eligible to serve as an election inspector, the student must be 16 or 17 years of age at the time of the election; be enrolled in grades 9 to 12 at a public, private or tribal school; and have earned at least a 3.0 grade point average or the equivalent.  The student must also have written approval from his or her parent or guardian and the principal of the school in which he or she is enrolled.  Indeed, the principal and the parent or guardian must sign the Authorization to Serve as an Election Inspector form[1] and the form must be provided to the Municipal Clerk.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission suggests that “[a]llowing students to work as election inspectors provides an opportunity for students to become involved in the election process and also offers clerks another resource for filling election inspector positions.”  Sometimes the student will seek out this role at his or her own initiative.  Other times, school districts and educators will advertise the election inspector position as an opportunity for a real life learning experience for students, which may be an attractive form of community service, an interesting learning opportunity, and something to include on college applications.

The high school student may not serve as the chief inspector at a polling place.  The law only permits qualified electors to serve as the chief inspector at a polling place. 

Typically, a high school student serving as an election inspector will have the opportunity to perform a number of tasks at the polling place, which include: registering voters, recording voters’ names on the voter list, issuing ballots, assisting voters with special needs and counting votes.  Recently, the Wisconsin Elections Commission has encouraged educators and municipal clerks to seek out students with foreign language skills to serve at polling places where voters may need assistance translating the English on the ballot, voting equipment and other election-related materials.  

The student’s absence from school to serve as an election inspector is an excused absence.  The student must be allowed to take examinations and complete course work missed on Election Day.

Employee Leave on Election Day

Wisconsin Statute § 6.76 requires school districts and other Wisconsin employers to provide employees, who are eligible to vote, up to three (3) consecutive hours of unpaid leave to vote while the polls are open (from 7:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m.).  This requirement exists regardless of whether the employer believes that the employee would have sufficient time to vote either before or after his or her scheduled shift or work hours. 

If an employee intends to take leave to vote in the election, the employee must notify his or her employer before Election Day.  In response, the employer must approve the leave, but may identify the specific three (3) hour period during the employee’s scheduled shift or work hours that the employee is permitted to utilize for voting. 

Employee leave to vote is provided on an unpaid basis.  However, the employer may choose to approve the leave with pay or to allow the employee to substitute paid leave for the unpaid Election Day leave.  Other than the time being unpaid, employers may not penalize employees for using voting leave.

Wisconsin Statute § 7.33 requires school districts and other Wisconsin employers to approve a one (1) day unpaid leave of absence on Election Day to any employee who is appointed to serve as an election official.  In order to take such leave, the employee must provide his or her employer with at least seven (7) days’ notice of the leave.  Upon request from the employer, the municipal clerk must provide confirmation of the employee’s appointment as an election inspector. 

The leave is typically provided on an unpaid basis, given that election inspectors are paid for their work on Election Day.  Other than the time being unpaid, employers may not penalize employees for an absence in order to serve as an election inspector.

For questions regarding this article, please contact the author, Attorney Shana R. Lewis (email: slewis@strangpatteson.com; telephone: 844.826.0902), or your Strang, Patteson, Renning, Lewis & Lacy, s.c., attorney.

[1]https://elections.wi.gov/sites/electionsuat.wi.gov/files/page/el_129_authorization_to_serve_an_election_inspecto_16388.pdf.

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