Wisconsin Election Commission analyzes April 7 absentee vote process
The report chronicles challenges, recommends improvements
MADISON, Wis. (WKBT) – Wisconsin election officials studied significant logistical and technical challenges faced in the statewide April 7 spring elections and presidential primary to form recommendations to improve the absentee process, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
The suggestions are based on analyzing the experience of handling a record number of absentee votes, says a WEC report issued today.
Nearly 62 percent of the 1.55 million ballots cast in the election were cast by mail, and 12.6 percent were absentee “early” votes cast in clerk’s offices or at a vote center before election day.
The numbers and recommendations are contained in a 24-page report from the commission to Gov. Tony Evers, the Legislature and voters that will be discussed at a special commission meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
“Because there have been so many questions about the April 7 election and absentee ballots, the commission thought it was important to provide detailed data and analysis of what happened, why it happened, and what we are learning from that experience as we prepare for the fall elections,” said WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe.
“We are already working on improvements, including the use of USPS Intelligent Barcodes to help voters and clerks track ballots,” Wolfe said. “We are also making it easier for clerks to process the higher volumes of absentee ballot requests we anticipate in future elections.”
Also Wednesday, the commission will discuss staff recommendations for spending $7.3 million in federal CARES Act pandemic grant funds to support voters and local election officials for the
remaining elections in 2020.
The extraordinary volume placed enormous stress on election officials, voting systems and the postal service, according to the report summary.
Although the vast majority of voters were able to receive and return their absentee ballots in time to be counted, some voters who asked for ballots in good faith did not receive them — through no fault of their own, the report says.
Absentee voting remains a largely manual, labor-intensive process administered by individual jurisdictions across the state, the report says. Voters can request a ballot and upload a photo ID on their smart phone in just a few minutes. But clerks then still must verify the IDs manually, stuff and seal envelopes by hand, apply postage, carry boxes of envelopes to the post office and physically check off each request.
Although such manual processes have worked well in the past, it was not easy to ramp them up without advance warning or extensive preparation, the report indicated.
With mail volume up to 10 times higher than anticipated, clerks had to complete the same tasks without the benefit of having more staff, additional supplies or more hours to meet statutory deadlines.
Despite these challenges, clerks across the state did what was necessary to complete the task, the report found. Many hired and trained temporary staff, developed new procedures and worked long nights and weekends to meet voter needs.
The WEC also hired temporary staff, rapidly expanded technical systems and worked around the clock to keep up with demand.
These efforts were successful, according to the report, which also said they also pinpointed opportunities for improvement.
WEC staff, Wisconsin clerks and the Postal Service are working to improve the absentee voting process and prepare for continued high vote-by-mail volume for the rest of 2020 and beyond.
All facets of the process, from the application form, to the envelope, to the tracking tools, are under examination and being evaluated for potential improvements, the report says. The tools will provide voters, clerks and WEC staff with a simpler process and improved communication, the report indicates.
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