Legislature should act to allow early ballot processing
The Wisconsin legislature should follow the Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s advice and pass legislation to allow clerks to begin feeding ballots into tabulator machines prior to election day.
Having the ballots in the machines will increase ballot security and allow for a timely reporting of election results on Nov. 3.
During an interview on a Milwaukee Sunday morning television news program, Johnson called on the legislature to take action on allowing absentee ballots to be counted early because of concerns that waiting until election day could delay the release of vote totals in the state.
Current state law does not allow the absentee ballots to be opened until 7 a.m. on the morning of the general election. Absentee ballots received either through mailin or in-person absentee “early voting” voting are supposed to be kept secured in clerk’s offices until election day when election workers feed them into the tabulator machines.
With the use of absentee ballots on the rise, in large part due to concerns over the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, clerks across the state have raised the alarm about being able to handle the influx during what is usually a high-traffic election day. Typically, poll workers will feed the absentee ballots into the tabulators throughout an election day as there are lulls in foot traffic. Presidential elections draw a much higher voter turnout than other elections making this impractical for larger voting districts, especially those in communities which have reduced polling places due to the pandemic. During last April’s presidential primary, about 75% of votes were cast by absentee ballot with more than 60% of those being mail-in ballots. According to the Wisconsin Election Commission, across the state they are anticipating more than 1.8 million absentee ballots could be cast this fall.
Wisconsin is expected to be a key swing state in deciding the outcome of the presidential election. A delay in releasing a final tally amount, especially if that amount significantly influences the outcome of the overall election, would lead to questions about the legitimacy of the election increasing the risk of a constitutional crisis.
The Wisconsin legislature should enact a law to allow ballots to be opened and fed into the tabulation machinery with the tally not counted nor disclosed until election day. The tabulation equipment is by design more secure storage for the ballots than keeping them in a storage closet in a public building or a filing cabinet drawer. Entering ballots into the tabulator as they are received would remove the risk of last minute bundles of uncounted ballots being found, as has happened in some state races in the past.
With a population evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, Wisconsin voters will play a significant role in deciding the next president of the United States. It is essential that ballots be kept secure and that every ballot is counted. Processing absentee ballots into tabulators rather than storing them until election day, will assist with ensuring they are properly counted and that results are released in a timely manner.