Here and Now 2020

Wisconsin Sees High Rate of Absentee Ballot Requests

By Will Kenneally

August 4, 2020

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A sign outside Midvale Elementary in Madison showing voters where to cast their ballots April 7, 2020.

A sign outside Midvale Elementary in Madison showing voters where to cast their ballots April 7, 2020.

Wisconsinites have requested absentee ballots at a rate more than eight times higher than they did in August of 2016, as the state heads to the polls for an August primary.

According to data released by the Wisconsin Elections Commission Monday, 821,378 voters have requested absentee ballots for the August 11 primary. The figure is smaller than the 1.6 million who voted absentee in April during the pandemic.

“It’s been busy,” said Connie Zimmerman, the clerk and treasurer for the Town of Fulton in Rock County.

She said she issued 516 absentee ballots for the town, which has 2,324 registered voters. Close to half of those ballots have already been returned she said, which beat the current return rate for the state at 40%.

“Everything is going as good as can be expected,” Zimmerman said. “I have not heard of any concerns from voters. Everyone has been pretty easy going, and easy to work with.”

In Milwaukee, which saw the city’s polling places reduced from 180 to five during the April election due to the pandemic, a little more than 75,000 voters requested absentee ballots according to city staff, of which roughly a third have been returned.

Unlike the process for the April election, which was changed by court orders to allow more time for mailed ballots to be received by clerks, all absentee ballots for the August election must be in-hand when the polls close next Tuesday.

“We want everyone’s vote to count, so complete and mail your absentee ballot as soon as possible,” Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe said in a release. “The post office advises it may take a week for mail to get from you to your clerk’s office, so don’t wait.”

Voters can still request absentee ballots as late as Thursday. Wolfe said however, voters can return their ballots to their clerk’s office or to their polling place on or before election day if they are concerned about mailing them.

This also comes amid a short outage Sunday of the elections commission website that voters can use to request absentee ballots. The commission faced a similar issue during the February primary: voters were unable to view a sample ballot by inputting their address into

The February outage was caused by what Wolfe called a “memory leak” and was fixed before April’s election. Wolfe said in February that any changes made to the system would be locked in by April and would not change through November.

A spokesman for the commission said he was still getting details about Sunday’s outage, but said a commission server that was having issues was fixed after it was restarted. He added that it appeared not all users of the site were affected.

Staff from the Milwaukee Election Commission said clerks were made aware of planned maintenance scheduled for Sunday morning, but had not heard of any voters having issues getting into the site.

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