League of Women Voters of Wisconsin
Press Release

Wisconsin Elections Commission Reverses Course on Absentee Ballots

Thousands of Absentee Ballots No Longer at Risk of Rejection

By - Oct 14th, 2016 04:29 pm

Madison, WI – At its Friday meeting, the Wisconsin Elections Commission approved a new policy for processing and counting absentee ballots with witness certifications missing a municipality. The Commission’s policy requires clerks to find the municipality using available resources and information, and fill that in on the ballot certificate. Clerks no longer have to obtain the voter’s consent to fill in the missing information which will reduce the administrative burden in the weeks before Election Day and ensure these ballots are counted.

Earlier this week the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, with assistance from the Fair Elections Legal Network and Richard Saks of Hawks Quindel S.C., submitted a letter to the Elections Commission requesting they take swift action so thousands of absentee voters are not disenfranchised and threatened to sue if the Elections Commission did not change its policy. As of yesterday, the Milwaukee City Election Commission had received over 600 absentee ballots with technically incomplete witness addresses, all of which were merely missing the municipality name. Often the missing information was from witnesses who are members of the same household who have the same address.

“Formed by leaders of the women’s suffrage movement, the League of Women Voters takes seriously any policy that needlessly disenfranchises voters. We applaud the local officials from the City of Milwaukee and Dane County who spoke out in favor of amending the policy so that people would not have their ballots tossed because of simple human error,” said Andrea Kaminski, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin. “We are pleased by today’s outcome, which puts voters first. The law can and should be clarified as soon as possible after the election.”

Since voting had only just begun, the number of ballots with witness addresses that contain a street address but no municipality would have certainly increased. In 2012, nearly 700,000 absentee ballots were cast across the state.

The initial confusion stemmed from a measure passed this year, Act 261, which requires the rejection of absentee ballots with a missing witness address on the certificate envelope. It does not define “missing address.” An October 4 memo sent to local election officials from the Wisconsin Elections Commission 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. The new complete address policy was sent to the local clerks after absentee voting was already under way, so absentee voters were not given notice.

The letter delivered to the Wisconsin Elections Commission can be found here.

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin is a nonpartisan organization that advocates for informed and active participation in government. The League welcomes women and men across the state as members. With 18 local Leagues in Wisconsin and800 affiliates across the county, the League is one of the nation’s most trusted grassroots organizations. Follow @LWV_WI on Twitter.

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