We Might Not Know Wisconsin’s Election Results on Nov. 3. That’s OK.

Samples ballot in Wisconsin. (Photo © Lola Abu-Shawareb)



By Jonathon Sadowski

September 25, 2020

Absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election must be counted as far out as Nov. 9, as long as they are postmarked by Election Day.

For more coverage designed to help you cast a ballot this fall, see our special page on the election: Your Vote Matters

The Nov. 3 election night is the opening of what is set to become election week in Wisconsin, with initial results that will be incomplete due to traditional safeguards, pending lawsuits, as well as the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

A U.S. Appeals Court overturned a recent order from Judge William Conley that absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election would have be counted as far out as Nov. 9, as long as they are postmarked by Election Day. Whatever the final outcome of absentee ballot deadlines, the results of Nov. 3 voting likely won’t be clear until days after the election in Wisconsin—perhaps the premiere battleground state in the 2020 presidential election.

“It’s safe to say that turning on the news at 10 o’clock on election night, you’re not gonna know who the winner in Wisconsin is,” said Reid Magney, spokesman for the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

What is unclear is just how long it will take for results to be released, Magney said.

And that’s OK, said Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe in a Thursday call with reporters, because same-day results have never technically been available in past elections.

“Election night results are always completely unofficial,” Wolfe said. “We have never had official results on election night. There are so many safeguards in the process. The law requires that those results be certified at the municipal level, that they be certified at the county level, and that they be certified ultimately at the state level as well.”

Nonetheless, this election will be a departure from past years. Conley issued his ruling because of the unprecedented election challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, a massive surge in mail-in voting, and President Donald Trump and Postmaster Louis DeJoy’s intentional throttling of the US Postal Service.

While DeJoy and Trump’s efforts do not appear to be real cause for concern that ballots will be late or go missing, messaging has been consistent for voters to request their ballot early, fill it out immediately, and mail it back to their local election officials as soon as possible.

“People should assume that it will take up to a week for each leg of that mailing journey,” Wolfe said.

While results will be delayed compared to previous elections, Magney said voters should not be at all worried.

“Just because it takes longer doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong,” Magney said. “It means clerks know it’s more important to get it right than get it done fast.”

[This story has been updated to reflect the Appeals Court ruling striking down an absentee ballot deadline extension.]




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