How, where and when to vote during a pandemic

    (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

    On Friday evening, March 20, a federal judge extended the deadline for online voter registration in Wisconsin until March 30, in response to a lawsuit brought by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and the Democratic National Committee.

    U.S. District Court Judge William Conley issued the order extending online registration, in light of the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, after the previous deadline of March 18 had already come and gone.

    As local and state officials around Wisconsin work out the details for holding Wisconsin’s spring election during a global pandemic, here’s what you need to know so you can vote safely. 

    Barring some action from the Legislature or a court order, the election will take place April 7. Officials are urging voters to request absentee ballots so they can avoid having to go into public polling places — potentially exposing themselves or others to the coronavirus. 

    To request an absentee ballot, people have several options. 

    The method recommended by officials is to request a ballot online — to avoid touching anything but your own keyboard. Voters can go to myvote.wi.gov and click on “Vote Absentee.” From there, registered voters can search their name and follow the directions to request a ballot. 

    If there isn’t one already on file with the municipal clerk, people will need to provide a copy of their photo ID. 

    An absentee ballot can also be requested by mail. Voters must download the application form, fill it out and mail it directly to their municipal clerk. People can also email or fax their municipal clerk directly to request an absentee ballot.

    Once a ballot is requested, people can track the request’s progress at myvote.wi.gov. The site will show when the request is processed, when the ballot is mailed and when it is received. 

    The deadline to request an absentee ballot online, by mail, email or fax is April 2 at 5 p.m and ballots must be returned to their clerk’s office by 8 p.m. on election day. It is recommended ballots be put in the mail one week before the election.

    A person must already be registered to vote to request an absentee ballot online or by mail. The deadline to register to vote remotely has been extended, by order a a federal judge, to March 30. 

    After that deadline has passed, unregistered voters can go in person to register at their municipal clerk’s offices until the Friday before the election — April 3. People should check with their clerk before going in as each individual office has separate hours and policies. 

    Voters can also register in person on election day at their polling place. 

    People are also able to go into their municipal clerk’s office early and turn in their absentee ballots. Officials are suggesting people do this if they’re able to lessen the load on election day itself. Again, check with each municipality on office hours. The deadline for in-person absentee voting is April 5. 

    The virus has also impacted the availability of safe polling places. Senior centers and nursing homes are now unavailable, as are some schools and private places. 

    Municipal clerks are working to find enough polling locations for election day. If a polling place has been moved, the change will be reflected on myvote.wi.gov. To find your polling place, go to the website, click “Find my Polling Place” and enter your address.

    On election day, officials plan on maintaining social distancing practices with lines and using hand sanitizer before and after a person votes. Officials are also planning on sanitizing or replacing pens after each use and will not be giving out “I Voted” stickers.

    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.