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home : news : elections May 26, 2016

5/29/2012 5:22:00 AM
Voters can still cast ballots early at town clerks' offices
Demand heavy as at least 90,000 request absentee ballots

Richard Moore
Investigative Reporter

There’s a well-known tongue-in-cheek saying – vote early and vote often – that became popular last century, mostly to refer to corrupt voting practices in Chicago, but at least half the phrase is legitimately useful now in Wisconsin.

One can’t vote often, of course; that would get you put in the slammer. But you can vote early, if you head to your town clerk’s office and request an absentee ballot by the close of the clerk’s business day this Friday, June 1 (or 5 p.m.). In Wisconsin, it’s not officially called early voting.

It’s called casting an in-person absentee ballot, but early is early no matter what it is called. Such voting started Monday, May 21, and the Government Accountability Office said late last week the voting was extremely heavy, with tens of thousands of participants. By last Thursday, at least 90,000 absentee ballots had been issued by local election officials, and that’s just the numbers from clerks who track the ballots using the Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS). Only about one-third of municipalities use the system.

That compares to 68,000 absentee ballots tracked for the May 8 recall primary.

“These numbers confirm anecdotal reports we are hearing from local election officials that there is strong interest in absentee voting,” Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel of the GAB, said. What you need to know Voters can also request a ballot the old-fashioned absentee way, by mail. Either way, here’s some information voters need to know. Again, in-person voting runs through Friday at 5 p.m. (but check to see when your municipal clerk’s office closes that day).

If you vote in person, the GAB states, you must vote immediately, place the ballot in the proper envelope, and return it to a member of the clerk’s staff. No ballots may be taken from the clerk’s office. The GAB also says tight timelines between the May 8 primary and the June 5 recall election left some clerks without enough time to have official ballots printed for the start of in-person absentee voting.

Most should have them now, but, in any event, clerks must provide substitute ballots, which are remade by election inspectors at the polling place. This has caused concern among some voters that their ballots won’t be counted, but the GAB says the practice is standard. For voters requesting absentee ballots by mail, the deadline is 5 p.m. Thursday, May 31.

That gives voters two more days to do so. The procedure is simple. Absentee ballot applications are available for download on the GAB website (http://gab.wi.gov/forms/voters), as well as from municipal clerks. Fill it out and mail to the local municipal clerk’s office (the GAB website has addresses under its Listing of Local Municipal Clerks).

The application must be received by the clerk no later than 5 p.m. Thursday, May 31 for an absentee ballot to be mailed. Those who are not yet registered need to register to vote before clerks will send an absentee ballot. A voter may also request a ballot by email or fax to the municipal clerk. However, before the ballot can be counted on Election Day, the municipal clerk must have received a request from the voter with an original signature, the GAB states.

Print the emailed request, sign it, and return it with the ballot, but outside the certified ballot envelope. The request must be made no later than 5 p.m. Thursday, May 31. Those who seek to register must provide acceptable proof of residence, the GAB stated. A photo ID is not required. However, the GAB observes, the state expanded the residency requirement from 10 to 28 consecutive days and ended the practice of “vouching” for people registering to vote who do not have acceptable proof of residence.

No reason is needed to vote either in-person or by mail absentee ballot. The GAB also cautions that absentee ballots cannot be changed once cast. In the past, voters have been able to return to the polls on Election Day and cast a substitute ballot, but a new law enacted last year banned the practice.

Military voters and those who are indefinitely confined due to age, disability, infirmity or illness may request absentee ballots by 5 p.m. Friday, June 1, the GAB states. Hospitalized voters and sequestered jurors must request ballots by 5 p.m. on Election Day. All absentee ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, and received by 4 p.m. Friday, June 8, to be counted. Finally, the GAB stated, the agency has received complaints that political parties and interest groups are sending absentee ballot mailers that contain campaign messages.

The return mailer comes with the address of the voter’s local municipal clerk, to whom the request must be sent, the GAB stated. That has led many people to wrongly assume the clerk is responsible for the mailer, Kennedy said.

While some of the mailers are not official absentee ballot request forms, he said, they are permissible, and clerks must honor voters’ requests for absentee ballots made using them. Kennedy also said some reports have questioned the legality of groups providing transportation to clerks’ offices for in-person absentee voting, but the practice is acceptable. It is also permissible to transport voters to the polling place on Election Day for voting.

Richard Moore may be reached at richardmoore.gov@gmail.com

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