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Informed Voter: The Voting Process In Wisconsin

Eligible students cast their ballots for the presidential election and several state offices while voting at a polling place at Gordon Dining and Events Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Nov. 6, 2012.

The voting process in Wisconsin can be confusing. Before your ballot can be counted, you have to be a registered voter. Then you have the option to vote early, absentee or actually go to the polls. Not to mention that you need to make sure you’re on top of any changes to voting laws.

Our latest part in the Informed Voter series — a collaboration between WUWM and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to answer questions texted to us from potential Wisconsin voters — explores what it takes to become a registered voter and cast a ballot.

To help answer questions we received about the voting process, we reached out to Reid Magney, public information officer at the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

Registering To Vote

Diane of Milwaukee asked:

Can one register day of? How long will it take? What documents do you need?

You can register to vote online, by mail and in person on Election Day.

“Wisconsin is one of a few states that allow Election Day registration. And it’s really beneficial to our voters,” says Magney. “You can register if you are new to the state. If you’ve changed your name or have moved, you can also re-register and update your information.”

He says to register on Election Day you'll need proof of residence and will need to fill out a registration form that will include your name, driver’s license number or last four digits of your social security number, and some information about where you live.

Participate in the Informed Voter series by texting 'election' to 414-269-6404. Once you get a response, then you can text us your election-related questions.

While voting laws haven’t changed recently, Magney explains that the range of documents accepted as proof of residence has. Proof of residence needs to show your current address, and you need to have lived there for at least 10 days. Items you can use to show proof of residence include a bank statement, ID card, paycheck, property tax bill or residential lease.

So, you can register the day of elections, but Magney encourages everyone to get it taken care of as soon as possible.

“Depending upon how many other people are looking to register that day also, there could be a line,” says Magney. “That’s why we suggest that you go to myvote.wi.gov and you can register there.”

To register online you must have a valid Wisconsin driver’s license or free Wisconsin ID card. If you don’t have a valid driver’s license, then you can register via mail. In Milwaukee, you can register to vote at any Milwaukee Public Library or at City Hall.


Timing is also a factor. If there’s an election in less than 20 days, then you can no longer vote online or by mail. Instead, you have to fill out a registration form and bring proof of residence to the polling station on Election Day — or, you can also register at the clerk's office or an early voting location 

Voter ID

Jan from Mequon texted us:

What can people, who want to vote but have no ID, do in such a short time before the November election?

You can go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a Wisconsin state ID card if you don’t have a driver’s license. If you tell them it's for voting, it's free. You will need proof of name, date of birth, proof of identity, Wisconsin residency, proof of U.S. citizenship and social security number.

“If you don’t have a birth certificate, if you don’t have some other documents, just bring what you have with you to the DMV. Tell them that you need a free state ID for voting and that you don’t have all of the paperwork. Basically, give them what you have,” says Magney.

Then, you’ll receive a piece of paper so you can vote. “They will do that for you right away,” he says.

Absentee & Early Voting

Gary wants to know:

Could you compare and contrast the absentee ballot voting processes being followed in the City of Milwaukee and its suburbs? I am of the belief that it is easy in the suburbs and difficult in the city, were that true then we are seeing another voting suppression ploy in action.

“I don’t know any reason why it should be different. I know that the process for counting the absentee ballots is different … but getting an absentee ballot itself shouldn’t be any different,” says Magney.

In the City of Milwaukee, all absentee ballots — ballots completed and returned before Election Day by people who can’t make it to the polls — are sent to a central location where they’re opened and scanned. But in the suburbs, absentee ballots are sent to your polling place where they’re opened and fed through the same machines along with those who vote on Election Day.

Anyone in Wisconsin can vote absentee, which can be requested at myvote.wi.gov. Also, early voting stations for the 2018 midterm elections are now open across the city of Milwaukee and in many municipalities around the state.

“Wisconsin doesn’t have what’s known as 'true early voting'. In some other states when you vote early you mark your ballot and then you actually put your ballot right into the machine and then it’s tabulated then,” says Magney. “In Wisconsin, when you vote absentee, whether it’s at home or at the clerk's office, your ballot goes into an envelope, gets sealed and doesn’t get opened until Election Day.”

Lauren Sigfusson
Lauren became WUWM's digital producer in July 2018.