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Elections Commission gives final approval to sending absentee ballot applications to 2.7 million Wisconsinites
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Elections Commission gives final approval to sending absentee ballot applications to 2.7 million Wisconsinites

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The Wisconsin Elections Commission on Wednesday unanimously approved a mailing that would send absentee ballot request forms to more than 2.7 million registered Wisconsin voters ahead of the November election.

The commission, which consists of three Democratic and three Republican appointees, last month approved a $2.2 million plan to send 80% of the state’s 3.4 million total registered voters a letter with a form allowing them to request an absentee ballot. The commission convened Wednesday to discuss and vote on the final mailer to be sent to those voters on Sept. 1.

Voters would only receive an actual absentee ballot if they formally request one. The commission also voted to not allow the postal service to forward an absentee ballot request form to a new address if the resident has moved.

Wednesday’s meeting comes one day after Rep. Rick Gundrum, R-Slinger, circulated a letter to other lawmakers urging the commission to not send ballot applications to all registered voters in the state.

The letter states that, while the proposal “is well-intended as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are concerned about the ramifications of sending a massive mailing to voters who have not requested an absentee ballot.”

Gundrum said in the letter he contacted each municipal clerk in his district, which includes West Bend, the village of Slinger and portions of Richfield and Hubertus, regarding the proposal.

“A few of the specific concerns that I heard from the clerks in my district were the amount of time, manpower, waste, and confusion to voters who are not on the existing absentee voting list or who did not specifically request one for the election,” Gundrum said in the letter.

Matthew Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks campaign finances, blasted Gundrum’s letter as “a last-ditch effort to gum up the works here,” and an attempt to pressure Republican appointees on the WEC “to toe the party line.”

“Frankly, I’m not surprised by Gundrum’s move. Part of the Republican strategy for the last 40 years in America has been to make it harder — not easier — to vote,” Rothschild said in a statement. “This late-inning attempt to interfere with the Wisconsin Elections Commission is just another in a long and shameful line of Republicans erecting obstacles on the way to the voting booth.”

The April 7 primary — which provided a preview of sorts for the November election, should COVID-19 persist into the fall — showcased several challenges with the state’s in-person and mail-in election process.

Milwaukee and Green Bay voters stood in line for hours to cast a ballot, while lines were rare in most other communities. Wisconsinites across the state reported they had not received their absentee ballot, despite requesting it weeks before.

Democrats have said a mail-in election simplifies the process and provides better representation, while Republicans, who control the Assembly and Senate, say such a practice would be costly and create potential for fraud.

More than 1.3 million absentee ballots were sent to voters ahead of the April 7 vote, shattering records for any state election. Of those, nearly 90% were returned and counted.

Absentee ballots and early voting accounted for more than 70% of all votes cast in the presidential primary and spring election.

‘Ballot harvesting’

In a 3-3 split vote along party lines, the commission on Wednesday rejected a request from the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty for administrative rules prohibiting “ballot harvesting,” or the process by which outside groups collect and return absentee ballots.

Republican members of the commission said the rule would reaffirm state law against such practices, while Democratic members said the practice is a nonissue in Wisconsin and the Legislature has the authority to change state law if lawmakers deem it necessary.

A measure to ban the practice failed to pass the Legislature last year.

A motion by Republican members to prohibit anyone other than an immediate family member or caretaker from collecting and delivering a completed ballot failed along party lines.

The commission also approved, 4-2, a motion to prohibit anyone from requesting an absentee ballot on behalf of another voter.

While the commission unanimously voted against WILL’s petition, the organization could file a lawsuit on the matter.


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