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Absentee voting shifts into hyper-drive: Court ruling allows mailing to move forward
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Absentee voting shifts into hyper-drive: Court ruling allows mailing to move forward

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A court ruling is putting pressure on county and municipal clerks around the state.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Monday that two Green Party candidates — and singer/celebrity Kanye West — are not eligible to be placed on the ballot, requiring municipal clerks to move quickly to meet absentee ballot mailing deadlines set by the Wisconsin Election Commission.

Dodge County Clerk Karen Gibson is one of 72 clerks in the state charged with printing and distributing ballots to municipalities.

“There’s a lot of work that falls on the clerks during the big fall elections, especially with the absentee ballots,” said Gibson. “They’re getting requests every day. In small communities it’s 10, 15, 20. In large communities it’s 100 or more. That all has to be tracked in the state voting system. They have to keep track of when the request was received, when the ballot was sent, the day the ballot came back. It’s a ton of work – a ton, a ton of work. It’s a far cry from the days before COVID, although there was plenty of work then as well.”

Ballots for Sauk County had been ordered in advance, following advice from the state to get printing done regardless of the court challenge. Some ballots were delivered last week, with the remainder arriving Tuesday.

“We’re in pretty good shape,” said Sauk County Clerk Rebecca Evert. “A lot of municipal clerks are getting them ready today (Tuesday). Even though the ballots were ready, we waited until the state gave the go-ahead last night.”

Portage Municipal Clerk Marie Moe reported that her office will definitely meet the Sept. 17 mailing deadline. (Sept. 19 is the date required for the mailing of overseas ballots).

“We have 1,500-plus requests so far,” said Moe. “We got the ballots this morning from the county, and now we’re working on getting them ready. My staff and staff from other departments are helping us out here.

“Wisvote (a statewide election management and voter registration system) prints out labels,” she said. “We’re initialing ballots, which makes them live. We would have been prepared earlier, but we obviously couldn’t move forward when we didn’t have the ballots. We’re hoping to be finished Wednesday, but we’ll keep on going if we have to on Thursday.”

Despite the challenges, many municipalities have been working ahead as much as possible.

“Most municipal clerks have already started to prepare their envelopes and put stamps on them, which will help them a lot,” said Gibson. “Every step will help them with the time crunch we all face.”

A shipment of 30,000 envelopes arrived at the Juneau Administration Building on Tuesday, anticipating high demand for more absentee requests.

In order to avoid the inevitable challenges of the upcoming election, county clerks urge voters to follow directions carefully. If they do not sign the outside of the envelopes, or have them properly witnessed, their votes will not count.

“Absentee voters should be lining up their witnesses already,” said Gibson. “Witnesses don’t have to see how they voted, but they should see that the voters put the ballot inside the envelope, watch them sign the envelope and then sign it themselves and put down their addresses. The envelope gets returned to the municipal clerk, and it is tallied on Election Day.”

The witnessing process can take place outside or with proper social distancing. Some municipalities have a drop box that may be utilized instead of returning them by mail.

All voters must first be registered — already done if the citizen votes regularly with the same home address. For those not registered, it may be completed online or at a local municipal clerk’s office. Registering on Election Day will require standing in line.

Voters will only receive a ballot if they requested one previously and specified themselves as indefinitely confined, or signed up for a calendar year. Otherwise they must again request a ballot through myvote.wi.gov or through their municipal clerks.

All voting steps – finding a polling place, registering, reviewing what’s on a ballot, requesting an absentee ballot—may also be done at myvote.wi.gov. If license information is not correct, proof of residence must be completed and mailed to your municipal clerk. The online registration deadline is Oct. 14.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 29, although there may be problems with receiving those ballots in time for the final tally.

“Mailing takes two to five days, so we’re advising everyone to request their ballots early,” said Moe. “If you wait until the last week or two to return it you should bring it to your municipal clerk’s office. That’s a sure way to make a late-request vote count.”

“We all know the election is coming so don’t wait until Nov. 1 or 2 to think about this,” said Gibson. “We all know the election is coming Nov. 3. Let’s get registered. Let’s get our photo IDs. Let’s get prepared.”

“Sooner rather than later,” said Evert, “and if you’re voting absentee make sure to allow enough time for mailing.”

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