Inside Track: Election Law in Wisconsin: April 2 is Deadline to Request Absentee Ballot:

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    Election Law in Wisconsin: April 2 is Deadline to Request Absentee Ballot

    All eyes will be on Wisconsin during the 2020 election. Michael Haas, staff counsel at the Wisconsin Elections Commission, answers to frequently asked election law questions and shares what voters should know before election day to ensure their ballot is counted.
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    March 18, 2020 – It’s another big election year. Wisconsin’s Spring Election and Presidential Preference Primary is April 7, and people may have misconceptions about voting requirements and security, all against the backdrop of a public health emergency.

    The Wisconsin Elections Commission is urging voters to vote via absentee ballot to address the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and calls for “social distancing.”

    The deadline to request an absentee ballot is April 2, but the Wisconsin Elections Commission is urging voters to request absentee ballots as soon as possible.

    Voters who do not have a photo ID on file with the municipal clerk can upload a copy of an acceptable photo ID in order to vote via absentee ballot.

    Election Law 2020

    Recently, Wisconsin Election Commission Staff Counsel Michael Haas and other panelists discussed election law and provided pre-primary updates in a State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE® program, “Election Law in Wisconsin 2020.”

    In a post-program interview, Haas said election security is the big issue that all state and local election officials are working on.

    “We at the Elections Commission have done a lot over the last four years to secure our election processes, our IT infrastructure, and to provide training to local election officials and to voters to make sure they have the information that they need,” Haas said.

    Haas said security and photo identification requirements are the most important for voters to understand, and many voters have misconceptions in these areas.

    “Every election year, we hear people who believe that absentee ballots are not counted unless the election is close, and that's not true at all,” Haas said. “Every ballot that's cast, absentee ballot or ballot at the polls, is counted.”

    Haas noted that there are unofficial election results reported on election night but in the weeks after the election, the official results are tallied and certified.

    “Another concern or misconception folks have is about voting equipment,” Haas said.  “It's not connected to the internet. There are security provisions as far as the results being tallied and transferred to a central office for tabulation.”

    The public, Haas said, has a number of opportunities to watch voting equipment being tested and certified both at the state level and the local level.

    “And voting equipment is actually more accurate than humans counting votes late into the night, so it's important part of our infrastructure,” Haas said.

    Haas said election night can create angst or anxiety when people don't see election results coming in immediately after the polls close.

    “That process takes a while,” he said. “Often there are absentee ballots that have to be counted after the polls close and of course, the larger the municipality, the longer it's going to take to accumulate those results. Our motto is it's better to be accurate than to be fast, and we advise the local election officials to take their time.”

    Photo ID Requirements

    Voters who are not registered can do so at up to 20 days before the election (deadline to register online for the April 7 election is today, March 18). Voters can also register at their polling places or clerk’s office, with proof of residence.

    Those who are registered must show photo ID to vote, usually a driver’s license or state-issued ID from the Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles.

    “If you vote without a photo ID, your vote will be counted if you bring your photo ID back to the municipal clerk within three days of the election,” Haas said.

    Attorney Roles

    Haas said attorneys can play a part in Wisconsin elections by understanding election law requirements and by providing legal advice to candidates and voter advocacy groups. Municipal attorneys, he said, are often involved in the election process.

    “Attorneys are often leaders in their communities, and just being able to provide accurate information to voters if you hear of things that are just not true – I think attorneys can be a credible source of information.”

    He also said attorneys can play a role by observing voting equipment being tested and certified, and they can go to the polls as election observers to make sure that the process is transparent and fair.

    “We encourage the public generally, but attorneys more specifically, to be engaged, to be informative, and to participate,” Haas said. “It's just an excellent way to be a valuable member of our democracy and society.”

    Haas encourages attorneys and others to visit the Wisconsin Elections Commission website, which includes legal resources, guidance, and historical information.

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