Absentee ballot

A man opens a ballot he received in the mail.

(The Center Square) – Wisconsin's April election set records, but also was in many ways consistent with past elections. 

A report released Monday by the Wisconsin Election Commission confirms what most people expected – namely, the state set records for absentee and mail-in voting.

"Absentee voting in the April 2020 election reached unprecedented levels but Wisconsin voters, local election officials and election administration systems largely adapted to the demand and managed the volume successfully," the report begins. 

The report notes that the election set, or nearly set, a handful of new records. 

"The April 2020 election broke absentee voting records in Wisconsin while maintaining relatively high turnout for a spring election," the report states.

The records include: 

  • Most by mail ballots ever cast in any Wisconsin election
  • Most absentee ballots ever cast in any Wisconsin election
  • Most in-person absentee ballots in a Wisconsin spring election
  • Second most total ballots ever cast in a Wisconsin spring election 

Of the 1.55 million ballots cast in the election, 61.8 percent were absentee ballots cast by mail and 12.6 percent were absentee “early” votes cast in the clerk’s office or at a vote center before Election Day.

“Because there have been so many questions about the April 7 election and absentee ballots, the Commission thought it was important to provide detailed data and analysis of what happened, why it happened, and what we are learning from that experience as we prepare for the fall elections,” WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe said.

One thing that Wolfe and the Election Commission did not find was an increase in the number of rejected absentee ballots. 

"The figures above are largely consistent with the percentage of ballots rejected or not returned in recent April elections," the report states. "Both the ballot rejection and unreturned ballot rates were consistent with or lower than the previous rates."

The report says the findings are not meant to "downplay the concerns and experiences reported by voters." 

Wolfe said the largest takeaway from the report is the amount of time and energy that local election managers had to expend to handle the massive increase in absentee voting. 

"The report points out that absentee voting remains a largely manual, labor-intensive process administered by each individual jurisdiction across the state," the WEC wrote. "While voters can request a ballot and upload a photo ID on their smartphone in just a few minutes, behind the scenes clerks must still manually verify the IDs, stuff and seal envelopes by hand, apply postage, carry boxes of envelopes to the post office, and physically check off each request."

Wolfe said the report will help prepare the state and local election managers for the November election. 

“We are already working on improvements including the use of USPS Intelligent Barcodes to help voters and clerks track ballots,” Wolfe said.  “We are also making it easier for clerks to process the higher volumes of absentee ballot requests we anticipate in future elections.”

The Center Square Correspondent

An industry veteran with two decades of experience in media, Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square.