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Free food at Milwaukee voting sites breaks election law

Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 27, 2020

By M.D. Kittle 

MADISON — Would you like fries with your vote? 

Republicans are raising concerns about groups serving food to voters near absentee voting sites in Milwaukee, an act that is illegal under state election law. 

An election observer this past weekend photographed meals being served near the door of a Milwaukee polling place. In the picture, about a dozen people are gathered around a food service table. A green sign promotes “Free Meals,” and “Food is Hope Food Is Community.” 

Wisconsin Elections Commissioner Robert Spindell said serving food next door to a polling place is illegal under state election law. 

“This would be considered electioneering, even though they are not pushing a particular candidate,” Spindell, one of three Republican members on the six-member Wisconsin Elections Commission. 

Federal election law, Title 18, U.S. code 597 to be precise, prohibits anything deemed an expenditure at the polls. The law in part says, “whoever makes or offers to make an expenditure to any person, either to vote or withhold his vote or to vote for or against any candidate … shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.” 

Claire Woodall-Vogg, executive director for the Milwaukee Election Commission, told Milwaukee County Republicans that serving free food at polling sites is not allowed, but it’s not clear whether there were any warnings or citations issued. Woodall-Vogg could not be reached for comment Monday. 

Spindell said election law prohibits such activities within 100 feet of the polling site. 

The state elections commissioner said it doesn’t appear the food servers told anyone how to vote or traded food for votes, which would be “highly illegal.” Still, when the observer notified the election inspector that food was being served next to the election site, the food servers should have been told to move outride the 100-foot zone. 

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