Wisconsin made headlines—and not in a good way—for a chaotic primary election on April 7. Flip-flopping rhetoric from politicians on both sides of the aisle, eleventh-hour court rulings, a shortage of poll workers... The results weren’t pretty: in Milwaukee, just five of the typical 180 polling sites were open. In Green Bay, it was two of 31. A record 1.3 million Wisconsinites voted absentee rather than wait in line for hours to cast their ballots. That increase in volume caused some glitches, but local elections offices and the U.S. Postal Service have had time to work out the kinks, making absentee voting an effective way to participate politically this fall.
Best. Participation Trophy. Ever.
Why vote absentee?
In Wisconsin (and 34 other states), any qualified elector (a.k.a. you’re legally able to vote) who registers to vote is eligible to request an absentee ballot. Under state law, voters do not need a reason or excuse to vote absentee. A few reasons to vote absentee for the August primary and/or November’s presidential election:
- Pandemic: You knew it was coming. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives since March, and voting is no exception. Individuals who are at high risk of health complications from the coronavirus should avoid in-person interaction as much as possible, including going to the polls. For those with lower risk, social distancing is the most practical, powerful way to protect those who are high-risk.
- Convenience: As long as you’re working from home, you might as well vote from home. While some of us have returned to the office, many bankers included, you can still embrace the WFH culture by VFH.
- Time: No one likes standing in line, especially during a pandemic. Absentee voting means you get to vote on your schedule, with plenty of time to research candidates and issues as you consider your options. Plus, for those of us who get social “stage fright,” there’s no pressure to be in and out of the booth as fast as humanly possible.
- Assurance: Already in the books as one of the most politically contentious, November’s presidential election could also be the most litigious ever. With the rules of the game under review by courts across the country, getting your vote in early by absentee voting gives you peace of mind that your voice is heard and your vote counted, no matter what happens on election day.
There are other reasons to vote absentee, as well. Maybe you have a full schedule on Aug. 11 or Nov. 3 and aren’t sure you’ll be able to step away, but you know how important it is to vote. Maybe you regularly have meetings that pop up and you want to make sure your vote is counted whether or not you make it to the polls. Whatever, the reason, absentee voting is a good idea.
So, you’ve decided to cast your vote from your couch. Now what?
How to request your absentee ballot:
Enter your first name, last name, and date of birth in the fields provided and click “Search.”
If the voter status and current address displayed are correct, click “Request Absentee Ballot.”
Voilà! You will receive your ballot in the mail.
The primary election is coming up on Aug. 11, so if absentee voting is right for you, request your ballot as soon as possible! Ballots received after polls close on election day are not counted. The U.S. Postal Service recommends mailing your ballot at least one week prior to election day (read: Aug. 4 for the primary, or Oct. 27 for the presidential election).
For the presidential election, registered voters may not need to go online in order to request a ballot. On June 17, Wisconsin election officials signed off on a $2.25M plan to send absentee ballot request forms to most registered voters prior to the Nov. 3 presidential election. The Wisconsin Elections Commission, consisting of three Democrats and three Republicans, unanimously agreed to send 2.7 million registered voters the forms required to request and absentee ballot this fall. No one will be sent an actual ballot unless requested.
Clarification: Voters have two options for casting an absentee vote. Option #1 is early voting, where you vote with an absentee ballot in-person at your local municipal clerk’s office. If you’re absentee voting to avoid in-person contact due to COVID-10, you want option #2: absentee voting by mail. That’s what we mean by “absentee voting” in this article.
How to vote absentee:
After you receive your ballot in the mail, read the instructions. This isn’t assembling Ikea furniture; a mistake could mean your vote isn’t counted.
Fill out the ballot in the presence of a witness. Your witness must be an adult who is not a candidate for the election. The witness should verify that you completed the ballot but not view your voting choices. To verify this, the witness signs the certificate on the ballot and provides his or her address.
Re-fold the ballot and place it in the included return envelope.
Seal the envelope and fill in the elector information on the absentee certificate envelope. If your municipal clerk already filled this information in for you, simply verify its accuracy and sign the envelope. Note: If the address listed on the envelope is not correct (if you recently moved, for example), don’t cross it out. Instead, contact your municipal clerk.
You can find more information about absentee voting from the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
Seitz is WBA operations manager and senior writer.