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Wisconsin

Wisconsin has opportunities in several issue areas to codify temporary 2020 policies and implement voter-centric reforms. The State can continue to strengthen its election system by expanding its permanent absentee voter list, implementing AVR and mandatory RLAs, and establishing drop boxes and polling place ballot drop off. Additionally, we suggest authorizing Election Day postmark acceptance, facilitating a cure process and ballot preprocessing, and improving statewide ballot tracking. As always, while policy is important, effective implementation is just as important.

As of 2021....

No Excuse Required

No Excuse Required

No excuse to vote by mail

Online Mail Ballot Application

Online Mail Ballot Application

Apply for mail ballot online

Robust Ballot Return Option

Robust Ballot Return Option

U.S. mail, drop boxes, vote centers, and more

Prepaid Postage

Prepaid Postage

Postage-paid return envelopes provided

Election Day Postmark Acceptance

Election Day Postmark Acceptance

Accepts ballots postmarked by Election Day

Ballot Tracking

Ballot Tracking

Online method to check ballot status

Signature Verification

Signature Verification

Voter signature verified before ballot is counted

Cure Process

Cure Process

Ability to correct issues so ballot can be counted

Preprocessing

Preprocessing

Election official may process ballot before Election Day

Opportunities

Wisconsin can reduce costs and increase voter convenience by expanding its permanent absentee option, on which voters can sign up to automatically be sent an absentee ballot for each election without having to re-apply, to all voters. Currently, only elderly and permanently disabled residents may sign up. States experience significant savings with these lists; on average, states save $1 for every request they no longer need to process.
We recommend codifying the secure drop boxes added in 2020 into law. Offering secure drop boxes is a cost-effective way to reduce strain on the postal system, and boxes are sometimes a preferred method by voters who want an extra bit of reassurance that their ballot makes it to the elections office on time.
We highly recommend creating vote centers, or polling locations where any voter in the county can vote. This is a way to streamline the system so over time, as the share of the vote cast by mail increases, counties can have fewer overall polling locations, while individual voters will have more voting location options.
Accepting ballots with Election Day postmarks shortly after election day is a best practice to ensure that voters are given all options to vote their ballot in a timely manner, as it is estimated in most jurisdictions to decrease ballot rejection rates by half. State court decisions implemented temporary Election Day postmark acceptance for the 2020 election cycle; Wisconsin now has the opportunity to permanently increase voter convenience by codifying the policy. We recommend that not only does a state allow the physical postmark on a ballot, but also to integrate into the USPS system for electronic postmarks to serve as validation that a ballot was mailed on time.
Ballot tracking software such as Ballot Scout or BallotTrax can be a very cost-effective tool to improve Wisconsin’s current ballot tracking system. An expanded notification system helps keep rejection rates low and increases voter confidence and participation.
Requiring that election officials contact voters about ballot issues will help decrease rejection rates, as Wisconsin is currently the only state that only recommends, rather than requires, voter notification during the cure process. Additionally, extending the period voters can cure any fixable issues with their ballots to 5 days after election day (rather than a deadline of election day) would reduce rejection rates.
As use of absentee ballots increases, it is important to make sure that the ballots received are being filled out by the individuals they were sent to. We recommend implementing signature verification to ensure the security of the election process, as the witness requirements that the state currently has are simultaneously less secure and raise barriers for voters.
Processing mail ballots to get them ready for counting before election day will help Wisconsin get faster election results. Preliminary data also suggests that preprocessing helps avoid any blue or red shifts when there are differences in the partisan lean of mail vs. in person ballots, which could increase voter confidence in the results of elections.

Recent Legislation

As of May 25, 2021

Throughout the 2020 election cycle, the State Board of Elections issued several orders that implemented temporary reforms, which ensured that all eligible Wisconsin residents could vote safely and securely during the pandemic. These orders implemented a wide variety of reforms; some of the most impactful provisions include: encouraging clerks to urge voters to vote by mail, providing for the delivery of absentee ballot envelopes (postage included) to counties experiencing shortages, ordering the delivery of absentee ballot applications for the 2020 general election to be sent to all registered voters, and mandating that residents of care facilities that usually receive assistance in order to apply for absentee ballots and/or vote absentee be sent ballots. 

One order also clarified that voters could self-designate as “indefinitely confined” due to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to qualify for permanent absentee voter status; these voters are not subject to the identification requirements. Another order provided for the enforcement of a court decision, which mandated that ballots be counted if postmarked by Election Day and received by six days later; however, the State Supreme Court ultimately overturned this decision, and the deadline for ballot receipt was 8 PM on Election Day. Another order affirmed the State’s commitment to the witness certification requirement for absentee ballots, even during the pandemic.

In 2021 (as of writing), the State Legislature has not yet passed legislation to codify these temporary reforms; however, it still has the opportunity to do so. The Legislature is currently considering more than a dozen bills that would amend its electoral policies. However, several of these bills would backtrack and undo Wisconsin’s progress in making its mail voting system more accessible. Since Wisconsin has year-long sessions, the state has time to make these vital changes.