Madison leaders propose new ordinance to treat threats to election officials as disorderly conduct

MADISON, Wis. — Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway announced Tuesday afternoon a proposed city ordinance that would treat threats made to election workers as disorderly conduct, punishable by fines up to $1,000.

The ordinance will be introduced at Tuesday night’s Common Council meeting, the mayor said.

“Here in Madison and elsewhere, too many election officials have suffered serious threats and continued harassment just because some people disagree with the results of the past election,” Mayor Rhodes-Conway said.

If passed, those who are cited for disorderly conduct targeted at an election official — including clerks and poll workers — would be assessed a maximum fine of $1,000.

Additionally, each instance of disorderly conduct could be cited separately. If the conduct is repeated or significantly threatening, then criminal charges could be referred to the Dane County District Attorney’s office.

“We are seeing a pattern of our clerks and our election officials being harassed for doing their job,” the mayor said. “Our clerks don’t control the outcome of an election; that’s up to the voters. What our clerks do is make sure the process and safe and fair and secure, and to be harassed for that, to me, is unacceptable.”

That included specific incidents of harassment against the Madison clerk and poll workers since 2020, she added without elaborating on specifics when asked.

“Our clerks have received specific threats and over the last two years, they have received specific harassment and we felt like it was important for us to take action,” Rhodes-Conway said.

City attorney Michael Haas says the definition of disorderly conduct — engaging in violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, unreasonably loud or otherwise disorderly conduct that tends to cause or provoke a disturbance — will be what separates what is considered a threat to an election official and protected free speech.

“The proposed ordinance would give us a more effective tool to catch offensive behavior and stop it before it becomes criminal,” said Haas.

The mayor said Tuesday her hope is the Common Council will pass the ordinance so it will be in place in time for next month’s primary elections.

You can read a memo on the proposed ordinance from city attorney Michael Haas to the Common Council here and embedded below.