An absentee ballot for the upcoming presidential election. (Photo by Pat Kreitlow)
An absentee ballot for the upcoming presidential election. (Photo by Pat Kreitlow)

Local officials requested more time to re-make ballots unreadable due to printer error.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court denied a request from officials in Outagamie and Calumet counties to extend the deadline for counting ballots next week after a printer error made thousands of ballots unreadable by tabulators.

Chief Justice Patience Roggensack wrote the majority opinion which stated that their decision, “should not be construed as an endorsement to disregard Wisconsinites’ fundamental right to vote.”

In her dissent, Justice Ann Bradley wrote that, “in sum, the majority leaves the local election officials in a lurch.”

“Without the requested and critical guidance from this court, they are left to do their best under difficult circumstances,” Bradley wrote.

According to a report from The Associated Press, the misprint is a scratch that is described as no wider than a fingernail on a timing mark at the edge of the Outagamie County ballot, and it does not impact any contests, candidates or ballot referenda. However, it makes the ballot unreadable by a tabulator. 

The Outagamie County Clerk ordered ballots for the county and portions of the city of Appleton and town of Harrison in Calumet and Winnebago counties. An estimated 13,500 ballots with the misprint were available for mailing. The error was detected and the ballots discontinued before in-person absentee voting began.

When a tabulator cannot read a ballot, election officials replicate the ballot before a witness and then run the replicate through the tabulator. It is a time-consuming process and due to the printer error, one that Outagamie officials could have to do for thousands of ballots. Another option would be to hand-count the ballots but Wisconsin State Law says all ballots must counted in the same manner– they must either be all hand-counted or all run through a tabulator.

Wisconsin state law requires all ballots be counted by 4 p.m. the day after the election. Outagamie and Calumet officials contacted the Wisconsin Elections Commission to request an extension. The WEC said it did not have the authority to grant an extension on a deadline imposed by state statute, so it was sent on to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. 

“Wisconsinites have a fundamental right to vote,” Roggensack wrote. “Therefore, a vote legally cast and received by the time the polls close on Election Day must be counted if the ballot expresses the will of the voter.”

However in the next paragraph, she denies the clerks’ request without providing guidance on how they are to completely count all of the votes in time. 

“They ask us to assume original jurisdiction and issue what amounts to an advisory opinion explaining

what election laws they are free to disregard,” Roggensack wrote. “We will not do that.”

Yet, as noted by Bradley in her dissent, the majority did suggest hiring more election workers.

Bradley also noted that the court has taken several cases recently that requested original actions by the courts and in some cases the court has done so ahead of the Nov. 3 election. 

“Yet in this case, arguably one of the most consequential of the lot and a case where time is of the essence, the court denies the petition without explanation,” she wrote.