Ballot spoiling remains banned as clerks continue prepping for Election Day

By: - October 31, 2022 3:27 pm
Two absentee ballots in the mail sticking out of the front of a mail box on a pole

Photo by Jim Small | Arizona Mirror

Last week, a state appeals court refused to block a lower court ruling, setting in stone the prohibition of a practice known as ballot spoiling — which allows a voter who has already submitted an absentee ballot to void it and vote again. 

The 2nd District Court of Appeals decided Thursday against hearing an appeal of a ruling earlier this month in favor of a conservative group that sought to end the practice. Ballot spoiling was advertised as a viable option in the state’s August primary election after a Republican candidate for governor and several Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate dropped out of the race before the election. 

Despite the advertisement, the practice remained rare. Data from the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) showed that in the August primary election just 3,519 people across the state, less than 0.3% of all voters, cast a new ballot after spoiling their original. 

The lawsuit against ballot spoiling was brought by a group of prominent Republicans, including former U.S. Attorney General William Barr. After the appeals court decided against hearing the appeal, the WEC held an emergency meeting Friday and voted unanimously to rescind the guidance it issued in August detailing how an absentee ballot can be spoiled. 

In 2020, a year in which absentee voting became significantly more common because of the COVID-19 pandemic nearly 33,000 voters spoiled their ballots and cast new ones, about 1% of all votes. 

The popularity of absentee voting has diminished somewhat since 2020 but remains common even though ballot spoiling is no longer an option. WEC data shows that with a week remaining before Election Day, more than 600,000 absentee ballots have been requested while 444,000 of them have already been returned. 

The official deadline for absentee ballot requests is Nov. 3, but election officials recommend that ballots be requested and returned earlier than that to allow time for them to work through the mail system and arrive in time to be counted, by the time polls close at 8 p.m. on Election Day. 

With the return to more in-person voting and an increase in threats to election workers and processes in the last two years, election officials and municipal clerks across the state are making contingency plans for disruptions and potential violence. 

Milwaukee Elections Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg said this weekend she was planning to increase security at the location where the city counts votes. 

“I’ve taken extra security measures to make sure if there was some type of bad actor, it wouldn’t affect those city of Milwaukee votes,” Woodall-Vogg said on WISN’s UpFront on Sunday. “We have more behind-the-scenes security, but anyone who’s coming to central count to work or observe on Election Day will also have to go through a metal detector.”

Both major political parties have reported an increase in how many people they’ve signed up to serve as poll workers, with Republicans claiming they’ve built a large system to suss out and stop any perceived attempts at election fraud. Woodall-Vogg told UpFront she focused on disruptive election observers in training chief election inspectors.

“We really focused on, in our chief training, (on) observers, how to maintain control of the polling places and just reminding them of their job,” she said. “It’s just become routine, honestly, in making sure they are not only feeling well-trained on complicated election law but they also feel prepared to ensure their own safety on Election Day and the safety of voters as well. And much of that is making sure if there are any disruptions, they’re addressed immediately. If they have to call law enforcement, they have the ability to do so.”


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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.