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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the League of Women Voters of the Greater Chippewa Valley are urging people to start thinking now about how they will cast their ballots in the November election.
Voters in Wisconsin have three options: to vote at their polling place on election day; to vote absentee before election day; or to vote absentee by mail, said Cheryl Miller, clerk of the Town of Red Cedar, at a forum called “Casting your vote in Wisconsin — get ready” using the Zoom online platform August 25 sponsored by LWV Chippewa Valley.
Miller has been the clerk in the Town of Red Cedar for 12 years.
Other speakers at the forum included Julie Wathke, Dunn County clerk, and Debra Cronmiller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.
A program on National Public Radio (NPR) noted that in the August primaries, many absentee ballots were submitted, but more than 40 percent were disqualified because of mistakes made by first-time absentee voters, said Ellen Ochs, co-president of LWV Chippewa Valley.
One way people can request an absentee ballot is through the website My Vote Wisconsin ( HYPERLINK “http://www.myvote.wi.gov/”www.myvote.wi.gov), Miller said.
My Vote Wisconsin will require you to upload a photo identification to request an absentee ballot if the clerk in your municipality does not already have a photo ID on file for you, she said.
Acceptable forms of identification are a Wisconsin identification card, a Wisconsin driver’s license or a United States passport, she said.
If someone is indefinitely confined to their home, then the photo ID is waived, Miller noted.
Voters can accomplish a variety of tasks on My Vote Wisconsin, such as finding their voter information, finding their polling place, finding out what is on a upcoming ballot, updating their name and address, registering to vote and requesting an absentee ballot, Miller said.
Absentee ballots for the November election will be available on September 17. The last day to register will be October 14, and October 27 will be the last practical day to mail your ballot for the November 3 election, she said.
The League of Women Voters website of the Greater Chippewa Valley ( HYPERLINK “http://www.lwv.org/local-leagues/lwv-greater-chippewa-valley”www.lwv.org/local-leagues/lwv-greater-chippewa-valley) has a feature called Vote 411 that contains a variety of nonpartisan election-related information, including information about candidates, said Annemarie McClellan, co-president of LWV Chippewa Valley.
LWV asks the candidates questions, and sometimes they respond and sometimes they do not. But LWV does not support or oppose any particular candidate or political party, she said.
In addition to using My Vote Wisconsin to find out if their voter registration is current, voters also can contact their local village clerk, city clerk or town clerk, McClellan said.
Some polling places in Wisconsin will not be operating in the November election because it is difficult to find poll workers due to the pandemic. To find out if your polling place has changed, check your local newspaper, call your municipal clerk, or check My Vote Wisconsin, she said.
If you make a mistake on your absentee ballot, contact your municipal clerk. The clerks can issue up to three ballots per voter if necessary, Miller said.
Absentee ballots require the signature of the voter, the signature of a witness and the witness’s address, she said.
Use a No. 2 pencil or a black pen on your absentee ballot. Do not use a colored pen. Instructions are on the ballot, Miller said.
If you lost the return envelope for your absentee ballot or if something happened to it, call your clerk to receive a new return envelope, she said.
The witness for your absentee ballot must have an address. You should mark the ballot in front of the witness — although the witness is not required to see how you vote, Miller said.
The witness must be a United States citizen, must be over 18 years of age, and cannot be a candidate on the ballot. Spouses can act as witnesses for the absentee ballot, she said.
If you live alone, you can contact family members to be a witness, you can ask a neighbor, or you could ask a delivery person. Even a librarian or a pharmacist could be your witness, she said.
If you do not mail your absentee ballot or do not hand deliver it to the clerk, you can vote in person on election day. The poll book will indicate an absentee ballot was issued to you, and there is a procedure to go through before you can vote, Miller said.
The post office recommends allowing two to five days for an absentee ballot to be delivered, but Miller recommended doubling that to seven to 10 days to make sure your absentee ballot has enough time to be delivered.
If you are still worried about mailing your absentee ballot, then hand deliver it to your clerk, she said.
One person watching the forum asked about postage on the return envelope for the absentee ballot.
Clerks are required to put postage on the absentee ballot return envelope, Miller said.
One person wanted to know the difference between absentee voting and mail in ballots/voting by mail and early voting.
Wisconsin does not have early voting, where people can go to their polling place and put their ballot through the machine, Miller said.
There is no difference between absentee voting and mail-in voting, she said.
People should also note no political advertising is allowed at polling places. That means people cannot wear pins for a particular candidate or t-shirts or hats, Miller said, adding that she and the election inspector in the Town of Red Cedar have asked people to cover up their political advertising while at the polls.
If you see someone with political advertising at a polling place, tell an election worker, she said.
A September 1 mailing will be sent to every registered voter in Wisconsin who does not have a current absentee ballot request on file for November 3, Miller said.
Elections in Wisconsin are run by the municipal clerks — villages, cities and towns — and they are the agents for the elections, Wathke said.
Wathke has been the Dunn County clerk since September of 2013 and served as the clerk in the Town of Sherman for many years before that.
Dunn County has 30 municipalities, and the clerk in each municipality is responsible for the elections, she said.
Requests for absentee ballots must be in writing. My Vote Wisconsin is considered a request in writing, Wathke said.
The municipal clerk will determine if the voter is registered, and if the clerk has the proper photo ID on file, then the absentee ballot will be mailed out to the voter, she said.
There is a multi-step process for requesting absentee ballots, and the ballots cannot be mass produced and mailed to everyone. An absentee ballot must be requested, Wathke said, adding that there are many checks and balances in the system.
As for voting machines, there are many federal and state security guidelines to make sure the voting machines are secure. None of the voting machines in Dunn County are connected to the Internet, Wathke said.
With a voting machine, there is always a paper trail that can be audited, she said.
For federal elections, the ballots must be stored for 22 months, and Wathke said she stores the ballots in a vault in the county clerk’s office.
Ballots always must be stored for an amount of time set by statute, she said.
If people are concerned about their absentee ballots being tampered with, the clerk will contact the voter if there is something wrong with the envelope, Wathke said.
The county, Wathke noted, cannot accept an absentee ballot. The absentee ballots must go to your municipal clerk.
There also is pre-testing and public testing of voting machines before every election, she said.
Every election is reconciled, and if a ballot is rejected, that information goes into the Wisconsin voting database, she said.
It is the job of the clerk to view the absentee ballots as they come in and to contact the voter if there are problems with the ballot, Wathke said.
People can always call the Dunn County clerk or their municipal clerk with questions, she said.
“That’s why we’re here,” Wathke said.
We are “on the cusp of an election like no other in November,” Cronmiller said.
Many people will most likely want absentee ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic. People who vote absentee make the polling places safer for other voters and for the election workers, she said.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, Cronmiller noted.
Voter suppression is real in Wisconsin and in the nation. State laws requiring voter identification, gerrymandered district lines, a reduction in time for early voting down to 14 days and a residency requirement of 28 days, down from 10 days in the past, all go toward making it more difficult for people to vote, she said.
It is crucial that voters request their ballot and return their ballot as early as possible. In the April election, the ballots could be counted if they were postmarked by election day, but that is not possible in the November election, Cronmiller said.