Drop boxes are designed to provide voters an alternative spot to deliver their absentee ballot, as opposed to traditional mail service. (Photo by Ethan Duran)
Drop boxes are designed to provide voters an alternative spot to deliver their absentee ballot, as opposed to traditional mail service. (Photo by Ethan Duran)

Ballots received by election officials after 8 p.m. on Election Day will be thrown out.

With less than five days to go until the presidential election, voters with an outstanding absentee ballot are best off skipping the mail and leaving their ballot in a local dropbox or turning it in to their local clerk if they are able.

Experts ranging from postal worker union leaders to the Wisconsin Elections Commission have for months stressed that voters should allow for at least a week of travel time when they return mailed ballots, and that guidance is not changing with just days to go. 

“There’s human error, sometimes there’s sorting errors, and that ballot—it might be one out of 100, but nobody wants to be the one out of 100—so if you want to assuredly know that your ballot is gonna get there on time right now with the time left, the best thing for someone to do would be to drop it off,” said Chris Czubakowski, legislative director for the American Postal Workers Union of Wisconsin and vice president of the union’s Milwaukee chapter.

Not every Wisconsin community has ballot drop boxes, and local clerks may not have early voting hours that are convenient for every voter, meaning some people may still need to rely on the US Postal Service to deliver their ballot. To accommodate those people, the USPS is streamlining service and management has authorized late mail pickup and delivery through Election Day, Czubakowski said, adding that those changes are made for every election.

“It is an important election, and I think it’s important people have the peace of mind right now,” Czubakowski said. “If someone drops a piece of mail off the morning of the election in a [mailbox], we’re gonna do our best to get it there.” 

Still, he said, the best option this late in the game is for voters to hand-deliver their ballot.

About 250,000 absentee ballots have yet to be returned in Wisconsin, and a US Supreme Court decision this week overturned a lower-court ruling that would have allowed mailed ballots to be counted as late as Nov. 9 to account for possible USPS slowdowns from the surge in absentee voting spurred by the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the deadline reverts to the typical cutoff of 8 p.m. Election Day. 

The tight deadline led to voter-rights organizations like the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin to change its recommendation to voters. It now urges them to use drop boxes and early voting sites to turn in absentee ballots, or bring ballots to polling places on Election Day, said Debra Cronmiller, the league’s executive director.

“As it gets this close to the election, we’re having to pivot some of our messages now,” Cronmiller said.

It is also permissible for a voter with an absentee ballot to change their mind and vote in person on Nov. 3. The Wisconsin Elections Commission says voters can bring their absentee ballot to the polls to be voided, though it is not required. A poll book will indicate if a voter has an outstanding absentee ballot.