WEC Approves Block Grants, Mailing to Voters

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By: 
Linda Schwanke

MADISON–The Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) approved spending $7.2 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding, including a $4.1 million block grant program to help local election officials and voters prepare for fall, 2020, elections amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

WEC will send an informational mailing to approximately 2.7 million registered voters later this summer about voting options for November, including an absentee ballot request form and a return envelope. The voter mailing is designed to inform voters who have not already requested an absentee ballot for November about their three voting options, including absentee voting by mail or in-person at the clerk’s office and voting at the polls on Election Day.

“We want voters to know what their options are, and for anyone who is considering voting by mail to make their request as soon as possible so clerks are not overwhelmed right before the election,” Meagan Wolfe, administrator of the WEC, said. “Wisconsin voters and election officials need to be ready for anything this fall,” Wolfe continued. “We are using the lessons we learned from the Spring Election in April and the federal grant funds to ensure we are prepared for November.” A partisan primary is also scheduled for August 11.

The $4.1 million block grant program is designed to help municipalities deal with potentially significant unbudgeted expenses for fall elections such as postage and envelopes due to high demand for absentee ballots as at the spring election, when nearly 1.16 million ballots were cast by mail.

For most voters the MyVote.wi.gov website is the easiest way to make an absentee ballot request any time prior to October 29, while for other voters who are not comfortable with or do not have access to technology having access to a paper form will be their best source of information. MyVote.wi.gov is also where voters can register to vote, find their polling place, view a sample ballot, or contact their municipal clerk to learn about in-person absentee opportunities.

Changes such as mailing absentee ballots to all voters are making Wisconsin an all-vote-by-mail state would require the legislature to pass and amend existing law. The WEC does not have the authority to make these changes.

State law requires registered voters to request an absentee ballot and any voters who receive the mailing will receive information about voting and an absentee request form, but each voter must still request a ballot from their municipal clerk. Absentee ballots cannot be sent automatically. Voters must also be registered to vote in Wisconsin before they request an absentee ballot. All voters must submit a copy of their statutorily acceptable photo ID with their first by-mail request, with the exception of military and overseas voters and indefinitely confined voters. 

Absentee votes have to provide a photo ID, just like when voting at the polls, with limited exceptions. Registered voters requesting an absentee ballot online can upload a picture or scan of their photo ID at MyVote.wi.gov. Those making the request by mail must provide a physical copy of their photo ID–a paper photocopy or even a photograph. Wisconsin’s photo ID law contains an exception for absentee voters who are indefinitely confined to their homes due to age, disability, illness or infirmity. This exception was designed for voters with disabilities, seniors and others who do not have access to an acceptable photo ID or whose photo IDs may have expired, but it can also apply in other cases. For more information about limited exceptions to Wisconsin’s photo ID law, visit our photo ID website: bringit.wi.gov.

Absentee ballots will not have tracking barcodes on them. The WEC will soon start using United States Postal Service (USPS) Intelligent Mail Barcodes (IMB) for absentee ballot envelopes, not the ballots. IMBs will let voters and clerks track where a ballot is in the postal system as it travels from the clerk’s office to the voter’s home and back to the clerk’s office, just like they track packages from online retailers.

The exact date the voter information mailer will be sent has not been determined, but it will be sometime after the August 11 partisan primary but before September 1. The deadline for municipal clerks to send absentee ballots to voters with valid requests on file for the general election is September 17 which should give voters a few weeks to make requests before ballots must be sent. Ballot requests received after this deadline will be fulfilled by local clerks on an ongoing basis.

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