Saturday, October 8, 2016

WI Absentee Ballots at Risk of Being Tossed

Thousands of Wisconsin mailed Absentee ballots could be thrown out because witnesses for the voters did not provide their full addresses.

With only a fraction of Absentee ballots mailed in, the number of ballots at risk of being tossed is now in the hundreds and could easily grow to thousands in the State’s largest City alone, said Neil Albrecht, the Executive Director of the Milwaukee Election Commission.

In most cases where ballots are at risk, the error is a minor one, the witness provided a street address but not the name of a municipality.

Often, the voter and witness live at the same address, but clerks aren’t allowed to fill in the missing information unless they track down the voter and get his or her permission.

“What distresses me the most about this is it’s mostly seniors,” Albrecht said. “I think it’s absurd that your ballot might not be counted because someone in your household didn’t record their municipality.”

The ballots are at risk because of a law Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature approved this spring that says mailed Absentee ballots cannot be counted if witnesses do not provide an address.

In the past, witnesses were supposed to provide their addresses, but if they didn’t, the ballots were still counted. That changed this spring with a provision tucked into Legislation changing Election procedures.

Sen. Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg), one of the Lead Sponsors of the law, said the provision was intended to ensure that witnesses are who they say they are. "It is pretty simple to fill out name and address," he said. "It doesn't seem too high a hurdle."

The problem has come to light amid a broader fight over access to Voting in Wisconsin and Nationally.

Courts have upheld Wisconsin’s voter ID law, but opponents are making a renewed push to suspend the law in response to reports of Division of Motor Vehicles workers giving voters wrong information about their ability to get voting credentials.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission has told clerks they can add the municipality or other address information for the witness only if they get the permission of the voter, even if what's missing is obvious. That requirement is “highly impractical and not at all effective in addressing this issue,” said Albrecht. Clerks typically don’t have phone numbers or email addresses for voters, he noted. “Basically, that guidance is the same as (saying) mail it back,” he said.

Albrecht has asked the State Commission to allow him to send letters to the voters describing the problem and telling them his staff will fill in the municipality for them unless he hears otherwise.

The change affecting Absentee ballots was included in a bill Walker signed in March that will allow people to register online to vote. That system is expected to be ready next year.

Democrats supported Online Voter Registration but opposed the bill because of other provisions of the Legislation, such as one barring Special Registration Deputies who help people sign up to vote.

Expect another lawsuit in Wisconsin before this General Election.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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