Voters are outraged, clerks are overwhelmed, USPS is questioned
Wisconsin’s top elections official on Wednesday acknowledged the failure to deliver absentee ballots in time for Tuesday’s election to voters in as many as four municipalities, but state residents from other locations told UpNorthNews they also didn’t receive the ballots they had requested.
During a teleconference Wednesday, Wisconsin Election Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe acknowledged voters in some locations did not receive absentee ballots despite having requested them. She mentioned Appleton, Oshkosh, the Village of Fox Point and possibly Wausau as sites where voters apparently didn’t receive their ballots.
But people in other locations across the state report having sought absentee ballots — some as far back as three weeks before Tuesday’s election — and not having received them. Voters in Wausau, Eau Claire, La Crosse, Green Bay, Madison, Milwaukee and several other less-populous locations reported not receiving the absentee ballots they sought.
In Eau Claire alone, nearly two dozen residents told UpNorthNews they had not received the absentee ballots they had sought. Some said they requested their ballots as long as three weeks ago.
Many expressed exasperation at having to vote in-person on Tuesday because the absentee ballots they had requested were not delivered in time, exposing themselves to possibly contracting COVID-19. Some people said they requested absentee ballots a second time after not receiving one initially.
Paul Wagner, 63, said he sought his ballot on March 25, and records show it was sent out the following day. But Wagner never received it, and on Tuesday he headed to his polling place on Eau Claire’s southwest side despite his concerns about possibly being infected by COVID-19.
“I’m definitely frustrated with this,” Wagner said. “The reason I requested an absentee ballot was to avoid any possible (COVID-19) exposure, to make it safer for me and other people. And I couldn’t do that.”
In the Village of Fox Point, an election official said hundreds of absentee ballots were repeatedly returned to village offices, meaning voters did not receive them by Tuesday’s election. And a postal worker discovered three tubs of undelivered absentee ballots that were supposed to have been sent to Appleton and Oshkosh voters. Why the ballots were not delivered remains unclear, and Sen. Dan Feyen, R-Fond du Lac, is working with WEC on the matter.
In another sign thousands of voters may have been denied the right to vote, the Milwaukee Election Commission said Wednesday it is asking the U.S. Postal Service to investigate what happened to absentee ballots that didn’t reach voters in that city.
Wolfe said she was unaware of other Wisconsin locations where voters did not receive absentee ballots. Her office will continue to investigate problems with those ballots, she said.
“‘All we know now is what has been reported to us,” Wolfe said when asked if there are other Wisconsin municipalities in which people failed to receive absentee ballots.
La Crosse resident Paul Sanke said he and others in that western Wisconsin city didn’t receive the ballots they had requested.
“I did what I was supposed to do, but I still didn’t receive my ballot,” he said. “I’m not alone. There are a lot of people out there who didn’t receive theirs either.”
Dan Flyck, who lives in Green Bay, is asking the same questions. He said multiple people he has talked to said they also didn’t receive absentee ballots they had applied for.
“Something isn’t right with this,” he said. “There just seem to be too many people who didn’t get ballots.”
According to WEC data, 1,287,827 absentee ballots were requested by voters for the April 7 election, and 1,275,117 were sent. Of those, 1,003,422 were reported returned to voters. The returned ballots figure has grown from 724,777 just two days ago.
Because clerks have been so busy trying to keep up with a record number of absentee ballots and preparing safe election sites amid COVID-19, “some of them may have been lagging in their data entry,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe said she is unsure why some ballots weren’t delivered or are missing, but they aren’t because of mistakes made by the commission, the state’s My Vote voter registration website, or local election clerks, whom she praised for their hard work preparing for Tuesday’s election under challenging circumstances.
Instead, she said, the ballot mix-up may be due to delayed deliveries by the U.S. Post Office, which said it is looking into the matter.
“We take reports like this very seriously, and so we spent many early mornings and late nights looking into the system, making sure that there wasn’t any possibility that things were being missed or weren’t being sent,” Wolfe said.