In an effort to encourage more vote-by-mail during the Coronavirus pandemic, Democrats would like to mail an absentee ballot to every single registered voter. This is a non-starter.
Wisconsin’s voter rolls have over 100,000 people on it who may have moved or died. Since the Wisconsin Election Commission refuses to remove those voter registrations, and the lawsuit that will force them to remove the names is still working its way through the judicial system, the state’s list of voter registrations is too flawed to trust. Mailing absentee ballots to over all of those unverified people is just an invitation to vote fraud.
However, Wisconsin has an opportunity to encourage absentee voting in a responsible way, and we should take advantage of it.
After the April election, the expected spike in cases of the Coronavirus failed to materialize. While there are some accounts of cases connected to in-person voting, there is no definitive link to an increase in the number of cases. However, research has shown that higher concentrations of in-person voting may have led to an increase in cases.
What also happened was that a record number of absentee ballots were requested and cast for the April election out of a concern that the Coronavirus could be spread on Election Day. There is no reason to suspect that those fears won’t be worse in August or November, depending on whether and when a second wave of Coronavirus infections hits.
What we do not want to have happen is the requests for absentee ballots to overwhelm local municipal clerks like what happened in April. Requests may not have been received in overstuffed email in-boxes. Those requests that were received were processed with delays. And, of course, some absentee ballots were sent out too late for voters to cast their ballot by mail.
There were two memorable pictures from the April election. One was Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) head-to-toe in germ-protective gear assuring everyone everything was okay. But far more frightening was the image of the person, diagnosed with a Coronavirus infection, showing up at the one polling place in the city of Waukesha requesting a ballot.
If there is another shortage of poll workers, we may again face the prospect of fewer polling sites. Less polling sites means a higher concentration of voters means more of a chance of spreading the disease. The higher possibility of spreading the disease will only drive up the demand for absentee voting.
We can get a handle on this potential voting crisis now. The federal government is granting money under the federal CARES Act to help states address voting access during the pandemic.
The Wisconsin Election Commission staff has put together a plan to mail an absentee ballot application, not the ballot itself, to every registered voter. The application process will still have the witness signature and photo identification requirements to prevent vote fraud.
Republicans on the Commission would like to reduce the number of applications mailed. They would like to avoid mailing to communities already mailing applications to registered voters and avoid mailing to those who have voted absentee in the past.
We understand and sympathize with the desire to save taxpayer money, but it is misguided in this application.
We should strongly encourage as many Wisconsin voters as possible to vote absentee in the August primary and November election. We should mail the applications as quickly as possible so we can have a better guess on the number of absentee ballots and the resources they will require at election time.
Having the state conduct the mass mailing, complete with new tracking and processing as proposed by the Wisconsin Elections Commission staff, rather than putting the burden on local clerks with their uneven resources should result in better processing of the absentee ballot requests.
Ironically, one of the Republican complaints in recent years has been how Milwaukee and Madison have been able to direct extra resources to early voting. Having the state send out the absentee ballot applications and processing the requests should help balance the election playing field.
Democrats on the Election Commission are willing to go along with mailing just the applications and nobody is seriously proposing doing away with in-person voting in Wisconsin. The application process will still have the safeguards Republicans have put in place.
It’s time for Republicans to take the win on absentee voting, a win for all Wisconsin voters.