Elections Commission moves one step closer to mailing absentee application to 2.7 million voters

    Wisconsin Elections Commission
    The Wisconsin Elections Commission meeting on June 10. (Screenshot)

    In an all-day meeting, the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) moved one step closer toward sending absentee ballot applications to 2.7 million registered voters in Wisconsin, approved more than $7.8 million in grant spending for election security and certified the candidates on the ballot for the Fall 2020 elections. 

    The body — which is split 3-3 between Democrats and Republicans — had already approved a plan to mail absentee ballot applications with the caveat that it would later need to approve the language and content of the mailing. In the meeting, WEC staff presented a draft design that incorporated much of what commissioners had already requested. 

    With only minor partisan dustups, several commissioners suggested revisions that included clarifying descriptions of photo ID requirements, making sure recipients know they must already be registered to vote in order to request a ballot by mail and emphasizing the importance of requesting ballots by the Oct. 29 deadline. 

    The draft was approved on a 6-0 vote with all six commissioners largely in agreement that it will be helpful to voters. 

    “I want to say I really, really like this mailer, I like the way it’s formatted and I think that it’s really a good piece,” Commissioner Julie Glancey said.

    WEC staff will conduct usability tests on the mailer and make the recommended changes before the commissioners meet again on June 17 for final approval. To leave time for printing by the Department of Administration and to ensure it is in the mail in time, the mailer must be finalized by June 19. 

    The commission also approved spending $7.8 million in federal grant money.

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    $3.8 million will go to county governments assessing and addressing their cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Counties will be eligible for a base grant of $35,000 plus $0.30 per registered voter. 

    Most of the discussion of the county grant centered on any requirements the WEC should have for counties requesting the money. Commissioner Mark Thomsen insisted that the money needed to be used to get all 72 counties to a standardized level of security. 

    Counties must be using a secure “https” website and be on a secure email platform — most likely with a “.gov” web address. If counties don’t already have those two things, they must use the grant money to get them. 

    An additional $1.2 million was set aside for municipal governments to use for purchasing secure equipment, hiring IT support or receiving cybersecurity training. 

    The $1.2 million is a continuation of a 2019 state grant that is being reopened because many municipalities are facing new needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 1,005 local governments did not take advantage of the grant the first time around. 

    WEC Technology Director Robert Kehoe said he doesn’t expect more than half of that allotted money to be requested. Because of this, any funds not requested by municipalities by Sept. 1 will be sent instead to county governments, again at a rate of $0.30 per registered voter. 

    The remaining money will be held back by the WEC to address any security needs that arise over the next several months before the 2020 presidential election. 

    The commission is next scheduled to meet June 17.

    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.