Local election clerks brace for more confusion
In what’s already shaping up to be a turbulent election, the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s order to temporarily halt municipal clerks from sending out absentee ballots, added a little more confusion to the process.
Last Thursday, 54 days before the election, the Wisconsin’s high court stopped the mailing of absentee ballots while it considers a lawsuit filed by Green party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins, who is contesting the state elections commission’s decision not to place his name on the ballot.
A separate lawsuit filed by rapper Kanye West is pending in Brown County Circuit Court. The Judge in that case said he will have a decision by today (Monday) but that decision will likely be appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court immediately.
For local election clerks, the situation is shaping up to be a possible nightmare scenario.
Monroe County Clerk Shelley Bohl’s office is responsible for getting the absentee ballots printed and to municipal clerks by Sept. 16, so those clerks can meet the Sept. 17 deadline for having the ballots in the mail.
She said she held off pulling the trigger on having the ballots printed, which is done by a printing firm in Illinois, until Friday, which is still cutting it close to meet state and federal deadlines.
She said if either or both of the plaintiffs in the lawsuits prevail, the ballot would have to be changed and there would be no way the Sept. 17 deadline would be met. Since this the first time something like this has happened, nobody’s sure how that would play out.
“We still have to meet statutory deadlines of the ballots,” she said. “The Supreme Court is saying not to mail the ballots but there is still the law that says they have to mailed by Sept. 17. That deadline has not been stopped.”
Bohl is still operating as if the ballots will be sent out to make that deadline.
Tomah City Clerk JoAnn Cram said with just under two months to go before the election, her office already has 980 requests for absentee ballots. In the April primary election had around 800 absentee ballot requests.
Jenny Lydon, Sparta’s deputy city clerk, said Sparta has had just under 1,200 absentee ballot requests but she thinks there will be plenty more before the Oct. 29 deadline.
“It would be a nightmare to print and mail a ballot and then have the ballot recalled, reprinted and resent,” said Cram. “It would cause a logistical nightmare for everybody.”
She and Lydon added that confusion already exists over third-party mailings that included absentee voting applications and information, including letters sent out to 2.6 million registered voters in the state by the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
Election officials are encouraging people to check the My Vote Wisconsin website, which will show if they already have an absentee ballot request on file. Still, sending in the paper application the Election Commission sent out won’t affect someone who already requested an absentee ballot. Cram said all ballots are entered into the system, which won’t allow issuing duplicate ballots.
The last day clerks can mail absentee ballots is Oct. 29, but they encourage voters to request them long before that to ensure they are returned by election day. Any ballots received after Nov. 3 won’t be counted.
Voters who want to cast their absentee ballots in person can do so at their municipal clerk’s office from Oct. 20 to Oct. 30.
In-person voting will still be in effect on Nov. 3 with polling stations taking precautions against the spread of COVID-19. Many municipalities will have drop boxes where voters can drop off their absentee ballots right up through election day.
People who request an absentee ballot can still vote at the polls as long as they haven’t returned it
She cautions that anyone who mails in a ballot and then tries to vote again at the polls will be committing a crime and will be referred to the district attorney’s office for voter fraud.
The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 29, and ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. on election day at the latest. To request an absentee ballot, visit myvote.wi.gov to request a ballot online and click on “Vote Absentee”. Enter your name and date of birth. Upload a picture or file of your acceptable photo ID. Otherwise, contact your city, village or town clerk to get an application.