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Wisconsin Election Clerks Rush To Mail Ballots After Delay

Alex Edelman
Mailed in ballots sit in US Postal Service bins inside the office of the Stanislaus County Clerk on Nov. 6, 2018 in Modesto, Calif.

Election clerks across the presidential battleground state of Wisconsin rushed to mail absentee ballots Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the state Supreme Courtlifted a temporary freeze on sending them while it considered a legal challenge.

“Oh, we're busy,” said Wendy Helgeson, the Town of Greenville clerk who also serves as president of the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association.

More than 1,850 clerks in municipalities big and small were working to meet a Thursday deadline in state law to mail ballots to the more than 1 million voters who had requested them so far. Absentee ballots can be requested until Oct. 29, but election officials have urged voters to act more quickly given the expected large numbers and delays with the mail.

Meagan Wolfe of the Wisconsin Elections Commission told reporters during a briefing Tuesday that the commission is getting reports of state residents receiving texts, mailings and phone calls saying they're no longer on the voter rolls, and encouraging them to re-register. Wolfe says people should instead check with official sources.

"Call the state of Wisconsin Elections Commission, call your municipal or county clerk, and they'll be able to provide you with the actual information about the election. Going to [myvote.wi.gov] is an excellent resource as well," she says.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Sept. 10 ordered a stop to all mailing of absentee ballots while it considered whether the Green Party presidential candidate should be added. Clerks had started to mail ballots in some cities, while others had to stop massive mailings they had ready to go.

The court lifted its freeze just before 5 p.m. Monday, declining to put Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins on the ballot.

In Madison, the state's second-largest city, the clerk's office tweeted pictures of employees working to prepare ballots just minutes after the ruling.

“We are working late so we can start mailing out absentee ballots first thing in the morning,” the clerk's office tweeted Monday evening. One image showed a sign that said “Rush” on a line of folders.

Clerks also face a Saturday deadline in federal law to send ballots to military and overseas voters.

“I’m working on it right now,” Helgeson said of her town's 2,500 absentee ballots. “I’m trying to post it.”

Helgeson said that while clerks were waiting for the ruling, they were doing all the work necessary to prepare the ballots for mailing, including initialing every one. Now she expects clerks are hustling to get them sent, Helgeson said.

Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesman Reid Magney said the commission told clerks immediately after the ruling that they could move ahead with mailing ballots.

“We’re assuming that it’s all systems go," he said.

Rapper Kanye West also filed a lawsuit to get ballot access in Wisconsin. He lost Friday in Brown County Circuit Court and has not yet filed an appeal. His attorney, Greg Erickson, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The uncertainty of the West lawsuit, and whether it could result in an order to reprint ballots, weighed on the mind of La Crosse city clerk Teri Lehrke. She was busy Tuesday preparing about 9,000 absentee ballots to mail on Wednesday and Thursday.

“That’s out there,” she said of the West lawsuit. "But we have to move forward.”

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