Updated Thursday at 2:59 p.m. CT
Wisconsin is a key swing state in the 2020 presidential election and it's seen a notable shift in how people vote because of the coronavirus pandemic.
With so many people planning to vote absentee, WUWM spoke with Claire Woodall-Vogg, the top election official in Milwaukee, about 10 steps to help make sure your Wisconsin absentee ballot is counted:
1. Request your absentee ballot early
Woodall-Vogg recommends giving yourself at least two weeks before Election Day to request your absentee ballot and mail it back. But aim for least one week if you’re going to return it at a drop box or election office.
2. Pick a witness
Your witness needs to be a U.S. citizen over 18. The witness can live in your household, be a family member or be a roommate. But it doesn't have to be someone you know.
“If voters live in the city of Milwaukee, and they need a witness, they can come to any early voting location with their blank ballot and they can vote it in the presence of our staff, and we can be a witness," Woodall-Vogg says.
3. Use a black pen
“If you don't use a black pen, our machines may or may not have trouble reading it,” says Woodall-Vogg. “Don’t use a highlighter, Sharpie or a pink pen if you can help it.”
4. Have your witness present when you’re voting and signing the certification
“You show them your blank ballot, you turn away and privately vote, you put your ballot into your envelope and seal it up, and then you both sign at the same time,” says Woodall-Vogg. “And one really important thing is that you have your witness present when you're voting your ballot. They don't need to see how you voted, but what you are certifying and what the witnesses certifying is that they know that you are the person who voted that ballot.”
5. Put your ballot in the certificate envelope
The certificate envelope should already have postage on it, so you can just put your ballot in there. Some ballots may say "no postage necessary." It will differ based on your municipality.
If you receive a ballot without enough postage to return it, that's OK. Reid Magney, with the Wisconsin Elections Commission, says it'll still be delivered. The clerk's office is responsible for covering the cost.
6. Seal it and don’t reopen it
Once you seal your ballot, leave it sealed.
7. Sign the certificate envelope
“You want to read [the certification of voter] and make sure that you sign it. And then it also asks for a date. The date isn't required, but it's always just a good practice to fill in the date as well,” says Woodall-Vogg.
8. Have your witness sign and add their address to the certificate envelope
“The witness is going to sign beneath the voter under certification of witness, it'll have a witness signature line, and then again, a space for them to write their address ... even if you live in the same household, you should still write out the full address of the witness on the envelope,” says Woodall-Vogg.
9. Check to see if your ballot has initials on the right side
On the right side of your ballot, you should see initials from an election worker. But that could be missing on some.
“We are aware of a handful of ballots that did not get stamped because they stuck together. So, if you find that your ballot is missing initials, we can always reissue a ballot. But it's important to know that the state election commission actually says that is not a reason for a ballot to be rejected on election day,” Woodall-Vogg.
10. Return your ballot
Currently, absentee ballots must be in the hands of election clerks by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted. While Democrats sued to extend the deadline for counting absentee ballots by six days, a federal appeals court blocked the decision. Democrats are likely to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“If you plan to vote entirely by mail, we suggest that voters give themselves two weeks prior to the election in order to request a ballot, have time to receive it and return it via mail. City of Milwaukee voters also have an option of using a drop box to return their ballot, we have drop boxes at every Milwaukee Public Library. And we suggest at least one week in advance as the application deadline to give us time to process the application, mail it and then have the voter return it via drop box,” says Woodall-Vogg.
What questions do you have about voting in Wisconsin? Submit your questions below.