(The Center Square) – Wisconsin's election managers hope to know in the next few days where thousands of 'missing' absentee ballots are located.
There is a gap between the number of ballots that were sent out ahead of Tuesday's election and the number of ballots returned.
Wisconsin Election Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe on Wednesday said that gap exists for one of two reasons.
The first reason could be local clerks have not tabulated them yet.
"We at the state don't issue ballots, we also don't track or record ballots," Wolfe told reporters on Wednesday. "That again is each of your city, town, and village clerks around the state that are doing the sending a receiving. Those clerks were mostly at the polls helping with things at the polling places. So even if they did receive ballots [Tuesday], they haven't been entered into the system."
Or the ballots could be missing in the mail.
"We've heard of ballot mailing issues from a number of communities," Wolfe said.
Wolfe said it's her understanding that ballots in Fox Point that were returned to the Post Office were outbound ballots that "bounced back."
She said the WEC is trying to figure out about ballots in Oshkosh and Appleton.
State Sen. Dan Feyen, R-Fond du Lac, said Wednesday on Twitter that someone found tubs of ballots at a postal processing center.
"I learned today that the WEC received a call from a postal service worker informing them three large tubs of absentee ballots from Oshkosh and Appleton were just located," Feyen tweeted.
Wolfe said the commission isn't sure if those were ballots that were never sent or are ballots that haven't been returned to the local clerks just yet.
"We've been trying to work with the Postal Service and find out more information about if there are any irregularities or issues that they are aware of," Wolfe said. "If, perhaps, there were ballots that were filed with them to be sent but weren't. We're trying to understand what the scope is of ballots that still may be in transit. Either from the clerk to the voter, of from the voter back to the clerk."
If those votes were postmarked by the end of the day Tuesday, Wolfe said they will be counted. If those ballots never made it to the voters, those voters may be out of luck.
"My current understand[ing] is that there aren't any exceptions for the deadlines that were either set in state law or in the court order," Wolfe explained. "It is our understand[ing], at this time, that there is no alternative for voters who ballots were not received by the [April 7] deadline."
Wolfe said local clerks can start tabulating votes, but she said no one can produce a final count until Monday. She said voters should get election results and answers about absentee ballot numbers by Monday night.
As for any potential lawsuits over missing ballots, Wolfe said it is a possibility but noted the WEC "hadn't been sued today."
Wolfe did take time during her question and answer session to praise local clerks and the Wisconsin National Guard for their efforts on Election Day. She said that Wisconsin's clerks ability to open polls in all 1,850 local communities across the state was nothing short of amazing.