Elections Commission descends into partisan bickering with important questions to be answered

By: - April 10, 2020 6:09 pm

Examples of ambiguous postmarks on absentee ballots received by local clerks. (Wisconsin Elections Commission)

Facing the prospect of interpreting court orders and state law as well as coming to a consensus on how the U.S. Postal Service works, the Wisconsin Elections Commission spent a Friday meeting bickering on mostly partisan lines. 

The meeting was held to provide guidance for what ballots local clerks should count as valid. A U.S. Supreme Court order said ballots must be postmarked by April 7, however in recent days municipal clerks have asked for help determining whether they should count ballots with ambiguous marks. 

The commission did unanimously pass a motion that any ballots bearing a postmark of April 7 or before should be counted — although that’s what the Supreme Court order had already said. 

The commission then passed a second motion that dealt with postmarks that just said April 2020, without a specific date. If the postal service can say that mark was only used for ballots received by April 7, those ballots will count. 

But aside from those two motions, the commission was largely unable to come to consensus on what ballots should be counted if the date is in any way ambiguous. 

Commissioner Ann Jacobs made a motion to allow ballots received by April 8 to be counted — assuming that if they were received by April 8, they were in the mail by April 7. That motion failed on a 3-3 vote. 

“If we can’t agree the mail takes more than a day, if we can’t agree on the actual reality of our human experience, then we’re wasting time,” Jacobs said. 

The Republican commissioners — mostly Robert Spindell —spent much of the meeting arguing that ballots should only be counted if they have a postmark specifically bearing a postmark of April 7 or before — despite evidence that the post office wasn’t consistent across the state with postmarks bearing the specific date. 

“If it does not have a visible postmark on the ballot that indicates April 7 or before, the ballot should not be counted,” Spindell said. 

Democratic commissioners argued Spindell’s narrow reading of the Supreme Court order would disenfranchise people who legally voted. 

“It’s not my job to disenfranchise legal voters,” Commissioner Mark Thomsen said. 

Without coming to consensus on the most ambiguous questions, the commissioners said the decisions would largely fall to individual boards of canvas and that the indecision of the commission will invite even more litigation. 

The votes will begin to be counted Monday, April 13 at 4 p.m.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.