MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin elections officials are standing firm on what must be included on an absentee ballot in order for it to be counted, a position supported by state law that could lead to thousands of votes being tossed.
A new Wisconsin law says absentee ballots that are “missing the address of a witness” can’t be counted, but it doesn’t define how much address information is needed for the ballot to count. That’s led to questions from local election clerks about how to handle ballots with missing information.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission advised earlier that the witness should provide a street number, street name and name of municipality, a stance that Elections Commission administrator Mike Haas reiterated in a memo Wednesday.
“The staff continues to believe the current guidance on the issue strikes the appropriate balance,” Haas wrote.
A more strict reading of the law, requiring additional information such as a zip code, state and apartment number, is defensible but “seemed overly harsh in practice,” Haas said.
The recommendation will be voted on at the commission’s Friday meeting.
Milwaukee elections administrator Neil Albrecht, who told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week that the requirement could lead to thousands of ballots not counting, said he was disappointed by the recommendation.
“I would hope the Wisconsin Elections Commission would have balanced the significance of the witness’ error against the consequence of a person’s votes lost in a presidential election,” Albrecht said. “The two do not equate.”
Albrecht had asked the commission for the authority to send letters to voters saying his staff will fill in the witnesses’ address unless the voter advises otherwise. But the commission told clerks they must obtain the voter’s consent before adding such information.
There were 70,740 absentee ballots cast in Wisconsin as of Oct. 7 — only a fraction of the total absentee votes that ultimately will be cast, as more in-person early voting locations are opened and the Nov. 8 election nears.
The law requiring witness addresses on absentee ballots was signed by Gov. Scott Walker in March. Before the new law, witnesses were supposed to include their addresses but it wasn’t required in the law, so ballots were still counted if the address was missing.
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