2020 | Week of May 25 | Radio Transcript #1361
To mail or not to mail—ballots? That is the question. Due in large part to COVID-19, in Wisconsin’s election last month, a record number of absentee ballots were requested. Over 1.3 million absentee ballots were mailed to Wisconsin voters, with nearly 1,160,000 or just about 90 percent of those requested being returned.
These absentee ballots represented about 75 percent of the total ballots cast in this most recent election. For some comparisons, in the spring 2019 election, about 167,000 absentee ballots were requested, with just over 146,000 of them returned, which was about 12 percent of the total votes cast.
If we go back to fall of 2016, with a presidential election, 845,000 absentee ballots were requested with 97 percent of those being returned and counted, accounting for a little over 27 percent of the total ballots cast.
Obviously, with this past election, we experienced a seismic shift in how we vote in Wisconsin. Before we explore this more and talk about what elections might look like moving forward in Wisconsin, let’s clarify the current options for voting in the Badger State.
First, we have in-person voting at the polls on election day. Up until April 7 of this year, this option was never in question.
For decades, we have had mail-in absentee ballot voting. Typically, it has been reserved for those who could attest that they physically could not get to the polls because of illness or disability or because they were out of town or something of this nature. The process involves completing an absentee ballot application, returning it to the municipal clerk, who then mails an absentee ballot to the requestor’s home. Once the ballot is received, the voter completes it, has someone witness it, sticks it in the postage paid, addressed envelope and puts it in the mail.
And the most recent option is early in-person voting. Originally such voting was standardized statewide. However, liberal-progressives didn’t like the law and filed a lawsuit, which resulted in every municipality in Wisconsin now getting to do early in-person voting pretty much however and whenever they want, including extended clerks’ hours, adding locations, and opening on weekends.
Why absentee ballots skyrocketed this past spring was pretty much all about the virus, whether directly or indirectly. Seeing that in-person voting could be shut down altogether, including on election day, clerks in at least two municipalities, Whitefish Bay and Bayside, took the time and spent the money to mail every registered voter on their rolls an absentee ballot application, which many voters took advantage of and returned, significantly increasing their voter turn-out.
Meanwhile candidates and involved organizations also realizing the possibility of no in-person voting ramped up their efforts to encourage people to vote by mail. Many people were fearful of being exposed to the virus and some just realized how easy voting by mail is and took advantage of it. The net result was eye-popping numbers.
So the question is what about future elections? Some believe we should do only mail-in ballots and scrap in-person voting altogether. A bill has been proposed that would, in an emergency, require municipalities to mail absentee ballot applications to all voters. The state Elections Commission is considering putting barcodes on ballots to better track them, especially those mailed in. Meanwhile, Milwaukee officials have already voted to mail every one of its 300,000 voters an absentee ballot application for this fall, which will dramatically increase voter turn-out in that municipality. I suspect if a law isn’t passed or the Elections Commission doesn’t take quick action, many other municipalities, like Madison, for instance, will do the same.
Meanwhile, talk swirls about fraud, especially related to absentee mail-in ballots. I wish we could stop election fraud altogether, but obviously that won’t happen. Personally, I think the biggest area for fraud isn’t absentee voting. I think it’s that the Elections Commission hasn’t purged the voter registration rolls. When that happens, I think we take some significant steps forward in thwarting election fraud. Until then, Wisconsin voters are going to have to deal with the very real possibility that elections will be won—or lost—based on absentee ballots. To mail or not to mail? How will conservatives in particular answer that question? We will know the answer on November 4.
This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”