Fair Elections warns: Thousands of Wis. absentee ballots at risk of rejection

The Wisconsin Gazette

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and the Fair Elections Legal Network are calling on the Wisconsin Elections Commission to take swift action so thousands of absentee voters are not disenfranchised in the Nov. 8 election.

As of last week, about 400 completed ballots in Milwaukee and 200 in Racine were at risk of not being counted because of an “incomplete” witness address — often because the municipality was not recorded.

The confusion stems from legislation passed last year, Act 261, which requires the rejection of absentee ballots with a missing witness address on the certificate envelope.

The legislation does not define a “missing address.”

An Oct. 4 memo the Wisconsin Elections Commission sent to local election officials stated a witness must include a street number, street name and municipality, but the absentee ballot certificate and instructions did not inform absentee voters that technical errors such as omitting a municipality would result in rejection.

This new complete address policy was sent to the local clerks after absentee voting was already under way, so absentee voters were not given notice, according to watchdog groups.

These groups cautioned that the number of ballots with witness addresses that contain a street address but no municipality likely will increase and it is up to local clerks to voluntarily contact voters to correct their absentee ballot submission.

“This is a challenge because most voters do not provide phone numbers or email addresses and mailing the absentee ballots back to voters will delay notification and corrections,” the groups stated in a news release.

Also, ballots could be received up until Election Day, leaving little time to contact absentee voters — and many of them could be away from home.

The groups want the elections commission to adopt a new policy for witness addresses on absentee ballots and accept submissions that include a residential street address but lack the municipality name.

They said a lawsuit is being prepared in case the Wisconsin Elections Commission does not take action this week. The commission is set to meet on Friday.

On the Web

The letter to the Wisconsin Elections Commission.