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'Three large tubs': Reports of missing absentee ballots pile up
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'Three large tubs': Reports of missing absentee ballots pile up

From the The COVID-19 pandemic hits home: Keep up with the latest local news on the coronavirus outbreak series

A Republican state senator reported Wednesday that a postal worker had discovered “three large tubs” of undelivered absentee ballots from voters in Oshkosh and Appleton, and the Milwaukee Election Commission said it is asking the U.S. Postal Service to investigate what happened to absentee ballots that never reached voters in that city.

The announcements are just the latest sign that thousands in Wisconsin might have been denied the right to vote after absentee ballots they requested some two or three weeks before Tuesday’s election never arrived at their homes. A U.S. Supreme Court decision late Monday required all absentee ballots to be postmarked by Election Day.

Sen. Dan Feyen, R-Fond du Lac, said he learned the Wisconsin Elections Commission had received a call informing it of the undelivered Oshkosh and Appleton ballots after he lodged a complaint with the commission on behalf of constituents who reported never receiving their absentee ballots.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported the city’s Election Commission executive director, Neil Albrecht, said the Postal Service investigation should be centered around “absentee ballots that were issued and mailed by the city of Milwaukee around the March 22nd and 23rd period.”

Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe said during a teleconference Wednesday that she was not aware of the discovery of other undelivered ballots besides those found in Oshkosh and Appleton.

But she suggested the commission was not at fault; nor were local clerks or the state’s My Vote voter registration website,, which sends requests for absentee ballots to local clerks and tracks their delivery.

“We take reports like this very seriously, and so we spent many early mornings and late nights looking into the system, making sure that there wasn’t any possibility that things were being missed or weren’t being sent,” Wolfe said, adding that the commission stays in contact with clerks to make sure they are sending out ballots as required.

“We’ve checked, double-checked, rechecked everything to make sure everything was captured,” she said.

Lack of tracking

Postal Service spokesman Bob Sheehan said before Feyen issued his statement that the Postal Service was “looking into” reports of missing ballots, but did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Feyen’s allegation and the call for the Milwaukee investigation.

Sheehan said it would be hard to know what happened to individual mailed ballots because they’re mailed first class, and that service doesn’t come with delivery tracking.

Also Wednesday, a liberal advocacy group called A Better Wisconsin Together said it had received some 1,900 reports of missing ballots through a website it set up over the weekend to track such reports. Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, who also tweeted that his absentee ballot never arrived, has been directing constituents to the site and has been soliciting similar complaints on Twitter.

Reports from individual voters who had not received ballots requested through the state’s My Vote website began cropping up in the days prior to Tuesday’s election.

Frustrated callers

John Zweig, who volunteered to staff a voter-help phone bank for the Democratic Party, said 90% of the approximately 110 calls he received from Saturday through Election Day were from voters who hadn’t received their absentee ballots. “These people were extremely frustrated,” he said.

He would look up their voter registration on the My Vote site and in most cases find that the ballots had first been requested in mid- to late March.

Feyen spokesman Matt Censky said voters who contacted the senator’s office “were responsible and requested ballots weeks ahead of the deadline and, through no fault of their own, weren’t sent ballots.”

As a result, he said, “Senator Feyen is expecting the Elections Commission to ask the courts to allow these ballots to be delivered, cast and counted.”

Those who didn’t receive a ballot could have voted in person Tuesday, though state and federal health officials advised against leaving home for nonessential travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photos: Wisconsinites vote in spring primary despite COVID-19 danger

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