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Politics & Government

New Wisconsin Law Requires Earlier Mail-In For Absentee Ballots

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If you applied for an absentee ballot – you need to know about a new state law. It requires you to mail back your ballot earlier than in the past, so that it arrives by 8:00 P.M. on election night, otherwise, your vote won’t count.

Under Wisconsin’s old rule, mail-in ballots had to be postmarked prior to Election Day. Then the clerk would count them, as long as they arrived by 4 p.m. on the Friday after the election.

But a new law took effect in September. It requires absentee ballots to arrive in clerk’s offices by the time polls close on Election Night.

“If it comes in a day or two after the election, the clerk will send it to the Canvass Board meeting, which will happen Friday or the following Monday, but the Canvass Board would be instructed not to count that ballot."

Mike Haas of the Wisconsin Elections Commission says he's urging voters to mail-in their ballots no later than Nov. 1, to ensure they arrive by Nov. 8. The U.S. Postal Service is recommending the same – mail by Nov. 1.  Milwaukee Election Commissioner Neil Albrecht is afraid some voters aren’t aware of the new law, and will wait until the last minute, to mail back their ballots. 

“If 2016 is any indication of 2012 or previous presidential or gubernatorial elections, we’ll see hundreds of absentee ballots arrive within a few days after the election and I think it’s very unfortunate that those votes will be lost,” Albrecht says.

Albrecht says his office has sent a letter with each absentee ballot, instructing voters to mail back their ballots within 5-7 business days prior to Nov. 8. The change pleases Brookfield City Clerk Kelly Michaels. She says if all ballots come in by Election Night at the latest, the canvassing process can begin sooner, especially in tight races.

“Let’s say you were within 20 votes of each other and if the clerk has 200 absentee ballots that are outstanding, that race is too close to call on Election Night because you have to account for those ballots that come in after Election Day. So, you would have to wait until the Friday after at 4:00 and then the municipality would have to do their canvass by 9:00 on the Monday after the election,” Michaels says.

Michaels says she too, is alerting voters to the change in the law. For instance, her office provides information on its website, and if she has a voter’s email address, she’ll send along an alert, when mailing the absentee ballot.