Voters across the state say absentee ballots are now arriving, days after they were forced to vote in-person or not at all
As complaints about Wisconsin voters failing to receive absentee ballots in time for Tuesday’s election continue to grow, the state’s top elections official said U.S. Postal Service officials have failed to provide answers about how the debacle occurred.
During a special meeting Friday afternoon of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, administrator Meagan Wolfe said the postal service has not provided answers about such issues as absentee ballots being found not sent at mail processing facilities and problems with postmarks.
“We are having a really hard time getting any answers from the post office,” Wolfe said, noting her department continues to investigate problems with ballots.
In the days since the election, a growing number of people have reported that they didn’t receive the ballots they had requested.
Some residents said they had sought ballots as long ago as mid-March but still had not received them. Others said they have received them on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, past the April 7 election deadline for them to be counted in election results.
Unreturned ballots have been discovered in at least two mail processing sites. 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.
But people in other locations across Wisconsin told UpNorthNews they also failed to receive absentee ballots.
In Eau Claire alone, dozens of people told UpNorthNews they had not received their ballots by Tuesday, although some said they have received them since then. Residents in La Crosse, Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Wausau, Stevens Point, Superior, Ashland and numerous smaller communities also reported that they were not sent their ballots.
“Receiving the ballots now is almost like adding insult to injury,” Green Bay resident Diane LaRue said. “So many people didn’t receive them in time to vote that way for the election. It’s a real shame.”
While ballots not returned seem to span a several-week timeline, March 20-24 is a time in which a large number of absentee ballots appear to have gone missing, Wolfe said.
In some cases, she said, members of a household applied for ballots at the same time, and records show those ballots were sent out by clerks on the same date. In too many cases one person received theirs within a few days, another a couple of weeks later and yet another person never got theirs.
Municipal clerks are reporting many problems with postmarks on ballots, Wolfe said. Postmarks had great variance, she said, “and some (ballots) have no postmarks at all.”
In Madison, nearly 700 absentee ballots mailed to the city clerk’s office in time for Tuesday’s election may not be counted because of a missing postmark.
The postmark issue became relevant because the U.S. Supreme Court decided just hours before the election that absentee ballots had to be postmarked by April 7. That decision overturned a previous ruling that allowed absentee ballots to be received until April 13 and still be counted.
Nearly 1.3 million people requested absentee ballots for Tuesday’s election, according to Elections Commission figures. As of Friday, 1.1 million ballots had been returned.
Post office officials said the agency is investigating the issue but details have not been released.
Eau Claire City Clerk Carrie Riepl said her office received some ballots without postmarks, but she won’t know a final number until votes are finished being counted Monday. Her department processed more than 15,000 absentee ballots, she said, including about 10,500 mailed out and another 4,500 taken via drive-through absentee voting.
Reipl and other clerks said they continue to field calls from residents upset they didn’t receive their ballots. Eau Claire resident Nick Phillips is among them. He requested his ballot in late March but never got it, so he donned gloves and a mask to vote at his polling place on Tuesday.
“I tried to avoid voting in person, but I couldn’t do it because I didn’t receive my ballot,” Phillips said, noting there are many others who faced the same difficult decision of risking their health to cast their ballot or giving up their vote.
Reipl doesn’t have an answer for those seeking ballot answers. Given the fact she has a record of all ballots being sent from her office, she wonders whether they were backlogged at post office sites.
“That is my best guess, that they’re in a mail processing facility somewhere,” Reipl said when asked why she thinks so many Eau Claire residents seem to be missing their ballots. “I know that we do not have them. We did what we were supposed to do with them and we put them in the mail.”
Wolfe said her agency continues to work with the post office with the aim of getting to the bottom of the absentee ballot situation.
“We do have multiple questions out to the postal service,” she said. “It is something we very much need answers for.”