Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board has edged closer to embracing electronic pollbooks, voting Tuesday to develop ground rules for their use.

The board also voted to ask state lawmakers to decide when Wisconsin lobbyists should be permitted to donate to presidential candidates, including Gov. Scott Walker.

The board — made up of six former judges tasked with overseeing the state’s campaign finance, elections, ethics, and lobbying laws — voted 4-2 for the electronic pollbook motion at its regular meeting. The motion authorizes board staff to develop standards and procedures for the use of e-pollbooks, which are laptops or tablets that replace paper pollbooks.

E-pollbooks perform the same functions as their paper variants, such as tracking eligible voters in a precinct.

By doing so more efficiently, they can reduce the amount of time it takes for voters to check in at a polling place.

Thirty-two states have jurisdictions that currently use electronic pollbooks, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Wisconsin, state law allows their use if the GAB approves it — which the board has yet to do.

After staffers studied the issue at length, the board voted last year against developing standards for the use of e-pollbooks.

But before Tuesday’s vote, the board reviewed a survey of county and municipal clerks, who would implement a potential shift toward e-pollbooks. The survey results showed a solid majority of election clerks support the move.

“It seems to me that the only question now is: how fast should we move on this?” said Judge John Franke, one of the board members.

The survey showed two-thirds of the municipal or county clerks who responded want the board to set standards and procedures for the use of e-pollbooks. Fifty-eight percent said they favor having the option to use e-pollbooks in their municipality.

The board voted unanimously for the resolution asking lawmakers to examine when lobbyists can give to Walker’s presidential campaign.

Jonathan Becker, administrator of the board’s ethics division, said Wisconsin lobbyists have inquired with the board about when they can give to Walker.

Becker said state law regulates when lobbyists can contribute to candidates for state office but doesn’t address when they can give to White House hopefuls.

“The Legislature, quite frankly, has simply not provided for this circumstance,” Becker said.


Mark Sommerhauser covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.