WEC Administrator welcomes observers, warns that votes take time to count

By: - November 7, 2022 6:30 am
Sign on wall reads voting and points toward an election site

Photo illustration by Justin Grimes (Photo via Flickr | CC-BY-SA 2.0).

Just days before the 2022 midterm elections, Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) Administrator Meagan Wolfe appeared at a virtual news conference Friday to outline how the state’s election processes are secure and detail the ways in which the system is protected. 

Wolfe’s appearance came the day after it was announced that a city of Milwaukee election official had been fired for fraudulently requesting three absentee ballots and having them sent to the home of a Republican lawmaker known for spreading conspiracy theories about the state’s elections.

Wisconsin Elections Commissioner Meagan Wolfe speaks about election processes days before the 2022 midterm election. (Screenshot)

The official, Kimberly Zapata, was officially charged with a felony and three misdemeanors on Friday. Wolfe insisted that the fact she was caught and has now been charged is a sign the election system’s checks worked. 

“We, however, recognize that the damage caused by this action is damage to public confidence, the violation of trust cuts to the heart of election integrity, something that the Wisconsin Election Commission and local election officials hold in the most serious regard,” Wolfe said. “While the actions of this individual set us all back in our efforts to show Wisconsinites that our elections are run with integrity, I have every confidence that the upcoming election will be fair and accurate. This lone individual’s actions do not in any way reflect the high level of integrity that the rest of our local election officials, who are your friends, neighbors and relatives, bring to their job every single day. While this incident is deeply unfortunate and a violation of trust. It shows that our strong legal and election systems worked as intended to root out this alleged crime.”

Despite her assurances, Republicans have used the incident to begin casting doubt on Tuesday’s results. U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican running for reelection against Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, brought up the incident when asked by reporters on Friday if he’d accept the results of the election. 

“We just found out that an election official in Milwaukee was sending military absentee ballots to Janel Brandtjen,” Johnson said. “We have in place a lot of observers, we have a lot of poll workers and our whole purpose was to restore confidence in our election system. I sure hope I can but I can’t predict what the Democrats might have planned.”

Throughout the year, both major parties have been working to sign up more people to serve as poll workers and election observers. Despite concerns that the observers might interfere with the process or cause disturbances, Wolfe said she welcomes more participation in the election process. 

“Observers, again, are a really important part of the election process,” she said. “I think it is actually really encouraging that so many people want to be engaged with the election process and want to observe it firsthand. I don’t expect that any of the observers won’t act in a professional manner. And if there are instances, individual isolated incidents in polling places, I think that our chief election inspectors are trained and are aware of their statutory ability to be able to control that disturbance.”

On Tuesday, the polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m., though voters who are in line when polls close should remain in line and will  be allowed to vote. The deadline to register to vote at municipal clerks’ offices is Sunday, but voters can register at the polling place on Election Day. To register, voters need to provide a valid ID or some other proof of residence such as a utility bill or bank statement. 

After the polls close, the state’s counting, certification and auditing process begins. Wolfe warned that the counting process can take a while, especially considering the large amount of absentee ballots that have been requested. In some of the state’s largest cities, including Milwaukee, absentee ballots are counted at one single central count location. 

Conspiracy theories have bubbled up about central count as a source of late night “ballot dumps,” but absentee ballots regularly get counted the latest because it takes a long time to process them and they can’t be opened until polls open on Election Day. Wolfe said the central count locations have plenty of opportunities for observers to see the process. 

“The bottom line is election officials prioritize accuracy over speed, always on election night when telling the unofficial results,” she said. “Results reporting in central count jurisdictions … instead of at each polling place is a common source of online misinformation on election night. That ends with mis-cited rumors about late night ballot dumps, which sow doubt about the integrity of the election.” 

“Please know that this counting is happening in public, with observers from the major parties present at the central count facilities,” she added.

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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.

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