Statement on legislation to change the way Wisconsin processes absentee ballots

Statement on legislation to change the way Wisconsin processes absentee ballots


December 11, 2017

To:           Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections

From:     Andrea Kaminski, Executive Director, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin

Re:           Statement on AB 637 

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin has reviewed AB 637, which proposes to change procedures for processing absentee ballots in our state. It would authorize a municipality to allow its electors to vote before Election Day by using an electronic voting machine to cast an in-person absentee ballot. 

This legislation seeks to address some problems with the current absentee ballot process, and there are certain aspects of the proposal that we appreciate, specifically that: 1) it offers in-person absentee voters an opportunity to know right away if their ballot is unreadable and needs to be remade; and 2) it promises to reduce the work required of election officials on Election Day.

However, we also see some serious problems with this legislation:

  1. In practical terms, it reduces opportunities for observation of the processing of absentee ballots by spreading the handling of ballots over more time, rather than processing them together on Election Day.
  2. It could result in “dead people voting” which is against the law. There would be no way to identify and remove the absentee ballot of someone who votes early and then dies before Election Day.
  3. It creates a two-tier system for handling absentee ballots, which the Wisconsin Elections Commission believes opens the state up to constitutional challenges in regards to equal treatment of voters under the law. Currently all absentee ballots, no matter whether they are received by the Clerk in-person or via mail, are treated the same way: they are not fed into the machine before Election Day. As such, they are treated equally under the law. This proposal creates a system in which absentee ballots cast in some municipalities are fed into the machine, while ballots in other municipalities are not. Once a ballot is fed into the machine, it is anonymous and the voter cannot change the ballot, as is currently allowed and would continue to be allowed in some municipalities.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission, which oversees elections in the state, identified additional problems the bill would create in its testimony to your committee, which can be found here:  

Because of the constitutional issues this bill would create, we hope you will not approve it in its current form. Further, we urge you to amend the bill to address all of the issues we have identified and those outlined by the Wisconsin Elections Commission. If you cannot do that, we urge you to reject it. 

Thank you.

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