A voter reacts to state guidelines for absentee ballots

    An absentee ballots for the April 7 election. (Photo by Henry Redman)
    An absentee ballots for the April 7 election. (Photo by Henry Redman)

    Last week, the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) released guidance for voters concerned about their ability to obtain the required witness signature on their absentee ballots. 

    Voters living alone who are self-isolated or quarantined due to the COVID-19 pandemic, may have trouble getting the required signatures. Last week, a group that included the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans sued the WEC to lift the signature requirement. 

    Marlene Ott, president of the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans, saw the guidance issued by the WEC and said she thought it would ultimately drive down turnout — especially among senior citizens who live alone.

    Below is the Elections Commission guidance in bold, annotated with Ott’s comments in italics:

    1. Voter receives their absentee ballot by mail.

    2. Before retrieving their ballot, the voter should wash or sanitize their hands and take extra care not to cough on balloting materials.

    3. The voter opens their absentee materials envelope and places the certificate envelope outside their door, in a mailbox, etc. where a person who is providing supplies or services can access it. If possible, the voter should put the certificate envelope and leave it untouched for 24 hours before the witness handles it.

    “[Wisconsin has] 800,000 senior citizens, a quarter of a million live alone. People my age follow those orders. They can’t bring anybody in, so how are they supposed to get that signature?”

    4. When someone arrives to provide the voter with supplies or services, they ask them to be a witness for their ballot.

    “From the postman? Are you kidding me?”

    The witness should be prepared to watch the voter mark their ballot through a window or by video chat.

    “Oh my god. That’s ridiculous. How many senior citizens are ready to do video chat? That’s just craziness.” 

    5. Before the voter marks their ballot and before the witness signs the certificate, they should both wash or sanitize their hands and take extra care not to cough on ballot materials.

    “It’s beyond comprehension. It’s confusing, it’s confusing to me and I’m only 79. Some of these people are 90, 95.”

    6. The voter marks their ballot in view of the witness, but with a physical barrier between them or by video chat.

    “It shows how out of touch they are with the barriers they’re setting up for senior citizens.”

    7. The witness signs the absentee certificate envelope and provides their required information. The witness then leaves the signed certificate on the doorstep, in a mailbox, etc. for the voter to retrieve.

    “Now they’re really caught in a bind. I would expect there would be some people who are not able to vote. I’m worried about it.”

    8. The voter washes or sanitizes their hands and then retrieves the signed certificate envelope.

    “I know they’re going to be upset, these are people who vote every election.”

    9. The voter takes extra care not to cough on balloting materials and places the marked ballot into the envelope. The voter signs and completes the required fields on the certificate envelope.

    “The right to vote is sacred and older Americans really take this responsibility to heart and they’re going to be very, very upset that they haven’t been able to cast a ballot in the presidential primary, in Milwaukee we have some huge elections.”

    10. The voter mails the marked ballot and completed certificate envelope.

    “These are all things that mean a lot to people who are civically engaged.”

    11. By the time the clerk receives the ballot any potential contamination will be degraded, and the clerk and poll worker should follow their instructions for processing ballots. 

    “The barriers, they just keep getting crazier. They must be written by people who don’t have any grandmas.” 

    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.