Despite attacks from president, Wisconsinites vote absentee in huge numbers

The Elections Commission addresses White House assertion on ballots being dumped

Envelope containing voting ballot papers being sent by mail for absentee vote in presidential election
Envelope containing voting ballot papers being sent by mail for absentee vote in presidential election

In the wake of attacks from President Donald Trump on the validity of mail-in voting and accusations of fraud, Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe reassured voters of the system’s integrity and updated the numbers of ballots already requested, sent and received. 

At a virtual press conference held Thursday, Wolfe said that Wisconsin’s municipal clerks have received 1,217,101 absentee ballot applications and have reported sending 1,197,831 ballots. So far they’ve received 395,082 back.

That number blows 2016 out of the water. This has been expected given the move to absentee voting because of COVID-19. But, that drastic shift to absentee voting comes as the president has continuously asserted — falsely — that voting by mail encourages fraud. 

Just this week, Trump made a number of false claims about voting at the presidential debates, including a reference to Wisconsin. 

Last week three trays of mail were found in a ditch in Outagamie County. Law enforcement said that included in the trays were some absentee ballots. The trays were returned to the postal service. 

In the debate, Trump said that absentee ballots were being found in creeks. 

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Wolfe gave an update on the Outagamie incident, saying that there were no Wisconsin ballots found in the trays, according USPS officials. Wolfe did not clarify if that meant ballots from other states were in the trays. 

“There was mail found outside of Appleton, and that mail did not contain any Wisconsin ballots,” Wolfe said. “No Wisconsin ballots were part of what was found. No Wisconsin ballots were involved or impacted by the incidents. We also learned from the United States Postal Service, that they are conducting a full investigation about why there was mail found in a ditch as it was reported in Outagamie County, and that once they have completed those investigations, and they have those findings, that they will be releasing that publicly as well.”

As Trump has cast doubts on the election’s integrity and he has also encouraged his supporters to go to the polls and watch for potential cases of fraud. In Wisconsin, people are able to go to the polls and serve as observers but they are required to follow procedures and unable to interfere with the process of election administration. 

Wolfe outlined the election observer process, saying they are required to sign in, wear a badge and stand in a certain place. She added that with COVID-19 restrictions observers will be required to wear masks and there will likely be a limit to the number of allowed observers depending on the size of the polling location. 

She added that the polling locations should make sure at least one observer from each major party is allowed. 

“We also work to meet with the political parties that might organize observers to talk to them about the observer rules to talk to them about what observers are and aren’t allowed to do, to talk about the procedures for signing in, and for observing and for not causing disturbances,” Wolfe said. “And so, we find that the parties are usually very receptive to having those meetings and having those conversations and it’s a good opportunity for us to all get on the same page as we head into Election Day.”

Wolfe also answered a number of questions about a pending lawsuit involving the WEC and the state’s statutory election deadlines. The case is currently under appeal, so voters should continue to assume that deadlines will remain the same, Wolfe said. 

The current deadline to register to vote online is Oct. 14. In Wisconsin, voters are able to register at the polls on Election Day with proper documentation.

With the potential extensions, Wolfe said the WEC and local clerks are planning contingencies, but that right now they’re going forward as if the deadlines will remain the same. 

Wolfe encouraged contingency plans for COVID-19 related problems, poll worker shortages and judicial involvement before election day Nov. 3.