Wisconsin Ballots Ready to Send
Nearly 80,000 absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 General Election were sent out to Madison voters. More than 20% have already been filled out by voters and returned. (Photo via City of Madison Clerk's Office/Twitter)

Already among the top states voting so far, there are hundreds of thousands more absentee ballots still to come.

Nearly 600,000 Wisconsin voters have returned absentee ballots as of Wednesday morning, a full 27 days before the 2020 presidential election, ranking the state near the top of the list nationally.

The numbers, released by the Wisconsin Elections Commission, show that 576,650 people have returned ballots across the state’s 72 counties. That makes up about 45% of the 1.29 million absentee ballots requested. Many counties, both Republican and Democratic, in the state have between a 40% and 50% return rate, while others are lagging.

Voters have already requested a record level of absentee ballots, about 400,000 more than the 2016 presidential election when 847,252 people requested an absentee ballot, according to WEC data. Of those who voted absentee in 2016, 674,424 did so in-person. Early in-person voting for this election begins Oct. 20, meaning all ballots currently returned have been mailed or dropped off at clerks’ offices.

Mail-in voting is surging nationwide over concerns posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Much of the early spike in mailed ballots is undoubtedly also attributable to the WEC’s decision to mail absentee ballot applications to about 2.7 million of the state’s 3.5 million voters.

Wisconsin’s 576,650 returned ballots rank as fourth-highest in the country, trailing only Florida (951,224), Virginia (769,708), and Michigan (636,788), as tracked by the website US Election Project.

According to the WEC’s most recent absentee ballot report, Dane County voters have returned the most ballots—103,518—with those in Milwaukee County returning 89,209. About 193,000 absentee ballots have been requested in Dane County, while there have been 221,000 requests in Milwaukee County, a county with about twice as many residents as Dane. 

Both counties reliably vote Democratic.

Voters in the so-called “WOW counties” to the west and north of Milwaukee—Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington—have requested a total of 163,463 ballots and returned 70,071. It remains to be seen whether President Donald Trump’s struggles in suburbs will carry over to these Republican strongholds, but the past few elections have indicated the President may lose ground here.

Those three counties shifted slightly toward Democrats in 2016 and even more in the April 7 election when liberal Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Jill Karofsky pulled off an upset against incumbent conservative Justice Daniel Kelly.

Brown County, the state’s third-most populous county, a traditionally Republican county that unexpectedly broke for Barack Obama in 2008 and Bill Clinton in 1996, has had 64,825 absentee ballot requests. Voters have returned 29,937 of those ballots so far. 

Brown County may be reliably Republican, but northeastern Wisconsin as a whole is generally considered a swing region. That being said, northeastern counties broke significantly for Trump in 2016.

In far northern Wisconsin, both heavily Democratic Ashland and Douglas counties have seen a higher than 50% return rate as of Wednesday. In Ashland, 1,612 ballots have been returned out of 3,011 requested, and Douglas County voters have returned 4,688 of 8,716 requested ballots.

Vernon and Pepin counties have the lowest percentage of returned ballots. Vernon County voters have requested 4,645 ballots but returned just 1,200, and Pepin County voters have requested 1,126 and returned 336.

Voters can request their absentee ballot by mail or by going to myvote.wi.gov. Ballots can be returned by mail with the included prepaid envelope or dropped off at clerks’ offices by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3, election day. Mailed ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and can be received as late as Nov. 9, as long as a court decision to extend the mailing deadline is not overturned. Early in-person voting at local clerks’ offices begins Oct. 20 and lasts through Nov. 1.