The number of late absentee ballots that weren’t counted in last fall’s presidential election more than doubled from 2012 after lawmakers moved up their return deadline by three days, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
The increase — from 498 in the 2012 presidential election to 1,208 last fall — isn’t surprising given the change in law, and the number of ballots that weren’t counted is still “extremely small” given the more than 813,000 absentee ballots and nearly 3 million total ballots cast, WEC spokesman Reid Magney said.
The State Journal reported on the little-known change in law in October. As recently as the August primary the law allowed absentee ballots to be counted if they were postmarked by Election Day and received by the next Friday.
Starting with the November election mail-in ballots have to be received by a municipal clerk’s office no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day, which means they would have to be postmarked a few days earlier to arrive in time. The Wisconsin Elections Commission advised absentee voters to mail in their ballots a week before Election Day last fall.
The new law was enacted in March, but it wasn’t set to take effect until September. County clerks had requested the change, said Chad Zuleger, a spokesman for Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, chairwoman of the Assembly Committee on Elections and Campaigns.
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He added the increase from 2012 could have resulted from the election being so contentious, leading some people to wait longer to make their final decision.
Other changes in election law, such as a voter ID requirement and extended early voting hours due to a federal court ruling, received more attention in the run-up to the presidential election.
Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, agreed the number is small and noted the League isn’t calling for any changes other than to ensure voters are aware of the deadline in future elections.
“It’s a bigger deal for those 1,208 voters who tried to vote but didn’t have their ballots counted,” Kaminski said. “Most of them probably do not know their ballot was not counted.”